Saturday, March 10, 2018

two haiku for the tenth of March

1.
Sissyphus pushes
the stone up the hill each day
all of Corinth tweets
 
2.
What “auto-detect”
Means on every scanner is
“Never in color”
 
The first, of course, is an observation about the way social media can be used to reframe our understanding of persistent mythology.
 
The second is for anyone who has ever done clerical work ever in their lives in the last fifteen years. Ever put color documents into a scanner in faith that 'auto-detect" function would automatically detect that the documents were clearly in color only to have the scanned PDF documents show up completely grey scale?  Yup, this poem's for you! Yours truly has also been there.

some links for the weekend

Over at The Stranger, a defense of jazz fusion and specifically of Herbie Hancock and Billy Cobham

https://www.thestranger.com/music/2018/02/28/25856417/in-defense-of-jazz-fusion

Over at The Baffler there's a semi-long piece about how "the powerful learned to launder their reputations using focus groups"

https://thebaffler.com/latest/listening-con-Featherstone

Well, by now conservatives have had nearly a century to figure out that what the Frankfurt School did was employ aesopic language (i.e. dog whistles) to translate their Marxist inspirations into less arrest warrantable terminology.  If those on the left are upset that the right figured out that they can do the think tank as front organization for ideological warfare it might not be a bad idea to remember that anybody can play this game, after all, once humans decide the game has to be played.

Without a Cold war or more explicitly McCarthyite context within which it would seem unseemly to so blatantly mimic leftist methods, the money is available to set up think tanks that can be used to promote ideals.  It shouldn't seem too outrageous to people on the left that people on the right, whatever the right is these days, have opted to do the same thing.

That said, the level of pervasive data mining happening these days is super creepy.  What makes it creepy is the extent to which people voluntarily embrace the mediums through which the data mining is possible.  In that sense the paradox of leftists embracing Twitter and other social media is that they are embracing the more potent modes of data mining and marketing tools available for putatively left ends.  As Fredrik deBoer sort of put it a year or so ago in the wake of the Trump election, why would anyone on the left think that a regime that has satellites that can read the slogans on your T-shirts from outer space would be worried about what leftists on Twitter do calling for some kind of antifa anything?

Remember back when the Trump victory was announced? There were some jibes to the effect that people in cities should not be at the mercy of subliterate farmers.  Democracy isn't necessarily what our system really is, if anyone were still attentive to the nature of the electoral system and how votes can be pledged and cast (which, clearly, some are); nor in our era where some consider our election to have been tampered with is now the time to forget the frequency with which the United States has tampered with elections and regimes.  While red and blue partisans have been adamant in saying that the results of the electoral process are illegitimate if the wrong team won there's less worry that the outcome of an election in some other region may have been messed with.  To put it in the most deliberately cynical terms possible, the red and blue partisans are fighting over who can wrest the most control over an imperial hyperstate that can tell the rest of the world what to do by dint of a nuclear arsenal and having invented the internet as we know it.  It's only a tyrannical police state if the wrong team wins and never about a question as tow hether or not debating the merits of the kind of police state the red and blue partisans want might be that of a police state.  Pardon the pessimism there ...

But ... the jibes against those who did vote for Trump being subliterate hicks invites a tag into the following:


https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2018/02/15/581895659/whos-missing-from-america-s-colleges-rural-high-school-graduates
 
 
.... Rural students live in places where it once was possible to make a decent living from farming, mining and timber-harvesting, said Charles Fluharty, president and CEO of the Rural Policy Research Institute at the University of Iowa. None of those required college educations. Then manufacturing began to leave, agriculture became increasingly automated, and mines closed. While cities were generally able to economically diversify after the decline of industries such as auto manufacturing, rural areas haven't.
 
"You could go to ag[ricultural] school, but you didn't have to," said Fluharty, who was raised on a farm in the Appalachian foothills of Ohio that has been in his family for five generations. "You could get those jobs, so why should you go to college?"
 
A resulting sense of hopelessness in places where jobs became sparse, Fluharty says, meant that rural students lost interest in their high schools' field trips to technical colleges or public universities, or in those visits from recruiters.
 
The same malaise apparently affects their parents. A third of rural whites, and 40 percent of rural white men, are resigned to believing that their children will grow up with a lower standard of living than they did, a survey by the Pew Research Center found. That's a higher proportion than people who live in cities (23 percent) or suburbs (28 percent).
 
This disaffection has been widely cited as a reason anti-establishment candidate Donald Trump won 62 percent of the rural vote in the 2016 presidential election, compared with Hillary Clinton's 34 percent — a much wider margin than in suburbs. In cities, Trump lost to Clinton by a wide margin.

Resignation to the belief that your children will grow up with a lower standard of living than you might be the most realistic and healthy perspective an American can possibly have at this moment in the world.  So what if your child's standard of living devolves back to what it was to be an American living in the United States in 1975?  How bad would that be, really?  Terrible for those with congenital health problems, obviously, but for the majority?  Probably not that bad.  For that matter if the American standard of living devolved back to 1915 how bad would that be compared to the entire planet?  Bad, I suppose, because polio was not contained and the Spanish influenza epidemic happened.  Still, compared to the oft damned Dark Ages, even having the standard of living of 1915 would be pretty good.  For all those who think that are turn to the Dark Ages would be terrible it was a step up for peasants compared to what was often on offer in the Roman period. 

There have been those worried that #metoo is the basis for a witchhunt.  If it is a witch hunt and I'm not sure it is, then it's a scouring of the entertainment industries that reveals that some of the places where sexual harassment is common turn out to be places like public radio.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/18/business/media/public-radio-metoo-harassment.html

Of all the realms of media that have been shaken by the #MeToo movement, perhaps the most surprising has been public radio, the home of virtuous journalism and thoughtful, warm-voiced commentary.
 
Like Fox News, Vice Media and NBC News, the tweedy world of public broadcasting — a complex ecosystem of local stations and national syndicators, with NPR at the center — has seen some of its most popular figures fall in recent months, including Garrison Keillor, Leonard Lopate, Jonathan Schwartz and John Hockenberry.
 
The reckoning is not over. On Wednesday, WBUR in Boston said it had fired Tom Ashbrook, the host of “On Point,” a call-in show heard on 290 stations, after an investigation found that he had “created an abusive work environment.”

...

In some cases, the behavior they are accused of has been recounted in detail, though rarely by the management of the institutions they worked for. Jon McTaggart, the president of Minnesota Public Radio, disclosed some details of its review of Mr. Keillor’s case at the same time that journalists there published their report.
 
In a statement to The Times last month, Mr. Keillor referred to a 12-page complaint about him as “a highly selective and imaginative piece of work,” and said he hadn’t been interviewed during an investigation.
 
 
“If I am guilty of harassment,” Mr. Keillor said, “then every employee who stole a pencil is guilty of embezzlement.”
 
New York Public Radio, which owns WNYC, has said little about Mr. Lopate and Mr. Schwartz — both decades-long fixtures of New York radio — other than that they were accused of “inappropriate” behavior and remarks. But reporters at WNYC recounted accusations, based on interviews with identified and unidentified women at the station, of bullying and “sexually suggestive” comments by both men, with one woman saying Mr. Lopate had sexually harassed her.
 
Laura R. Walker, the chief executive of New York Public Radio, has said the station is committed to changing its culture, but a recent piece by New York magazine portrayed the staff as skeptical and disillusioned.
 
Most of the accusations of harassment and improper behavior have been made against men in their 60s and 70s. That perhaps exacerbates an already present generational divide in public radio, where a younger generation of practitioners is being increasingly drawn to the freedom offered by other audio formats like podcasting.
 
“The public radio environment is bursting at the seams with younger media makers who have embraced formats like podcasting as their primary means of expression,” said Matthew Lasar, the author of “Radio 2.0: Uploading the First Broadcast Medium.” “A new public radio world is emerging, and, intentionally or not, these difficult and painful changes feel like part of that transition.”
 
The lack of specificity of the charges against Mr. Lopate, 77, and Mr. Schwartz, 79, has added fuel to a small movement in their support. A Facebook group and an online petition have called for Mr. Lopate’s reinstatement; Art Spiegelman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, signed the petition and called Mr. Lopate’s dismissal “the radio equivalent of demolishing Penn Station back in the early 1960s.”
 
In an email, Mr. Lopate declined to comment on the specifics of his situation, but said: “I will say that in my case I still haven’t been given a cause for dismissal and my alleged misdeeds are so negligible, I suspect the station saw the #MeToo environment as a convenient time to make a programming decision.”

...

The paradox of public radio being one of the domains in which sexual harassment persisted has been a topic for discussion is that it could be construed as one of the less patriarchal power cultures.

https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2018/02/sexual-harassment-public-media/551780/ 

While many people I spoke with say public media’s harassment problem isn’t worse than other segments of media, it’s clear that the systems in place to cope with issues of sexual harassment have been woefully inadequate. Julie Drizin, the executive director of Current, a nonprofit publication focused on public media, says that the lack of robust human-resources departments that would include training and specific reporting mechanisms in instances of harassment may be a part of the problem, at least at some stations. “A lot of corporations invest a lot more in HR. I think that’s one of the things that separates public media from other kinds of media,” she says.
 
Still, even with its well-known deficiencies, public media doesn’t quite fit the stereotypes of a male-dominated, hostile work environment. Vivian Schiller, the former CEO of National Public Radio, told me that public broadcasting, particularly NPR, has long been considered a space where women can thrive. “When I was there, most of the leadership was women,” Schiller said. In fact, four women, Cokie Roberts, Nina Totenberg, Linda Wertheimer, and Susan Stamberg, are often referred to as the “founding mothers” of NPR. And the organization’s most recent data on newsroom makeup shows that more than half of newsroom employees are women. The fact that a culture of harassment and bullying were allowed to fester for years, all while women sat in positions of power and control, makes the issue all the more confusing. But if you consider the discord on other issues, such as between public media’s stated commitment to diversity and its predominantly white audiences and newsrooms, it’s clear that the overarching vision of public broadcasting often doesn’t manifest in real and critical ways. [emphasis added]

But this seems too glib a statement to make in 2018.  The idea that the tension may be between public media's commitment to diversity and its predominantly white audiences and newsrooms could invite a glib conflation of white male patriarchal bad behavior and sexual harassment. 

After all, the last few weeks' headlines about Sherman Alexie should disabuse us of the notion that there's anything white about guys trying to leverage celebrity, even local or subcultural celebrity, to approaching women about sexual relationships. But first let's revisit some stuff Sherman Alexie said last year in an interview with NPR. The thread's staying consistent here, harassment in public radio, a public media outlet having an interview with a famous Native American writer who, in turn, becomes the focus of allegations of sexual misconduct.

 
When you grow up in a warrior culture, an extremely masculine culture, tears can be seen as a sign of weakness. ... Any surrender, any conceding of anything can also be seen as a sign of weakness. I've always been a rather androgynous, emotional person, so my emotional state, my androgyny — I was more androgynous as a youth than now — but I think all of that combined to make me a target.
It wasn't just the influence of tribal cultures, it was the assimilation into fundamentalist Christianity, which is even more warrior culture, even more honor culture, and even more suspicious of difference. So I was getting bombarded not only by the more fundamentalist aspects of my tribe, but the more fundamentalist aspects of our assimilation into Christianity. So that was going on all around us, and, in fact, in second grade we had this ex-nun teacher who put us into stress positions as torture.
 
On learning that his mother was conceived by rape
 
She told me that in my teen years as I was going to school off the reservation, as I was preparing for a life off the reservation, as I was preparing to become this person I am now. Looking back, I think it was my mother's highly dysfunctional way to tell me, to warn me, about what a man can be ... hoping that I would become a good man, a man who treated women with respect. A man who honored women and their power, and a man who would not become a criminal. I think it was her highly dysfunctional version of the sex talk.

At this point it would seem clear Alexie can't pin any blame on his fundamentalist upbringing or on his "warrior culture" experience among his Native American tribe for what he was only able to do as a literary celebrity.

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/sherman-alexie-addresses-the-sexual-misconduct-allegations-that-have-led-to-fallout/

https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/news/native-news/hes-poisonous-women-go-public-regarding-sherman-alexie-sexual-harassment-allegations/
 
 
 
 
 
Sara Marie Ortiz is a member of the Acoma Pueblo tribe, and a longtime friend of Alexie’s. She says she’s never seen Alexie harass anybody, but she knows and trusts all three of the women in the NPR story
 
“It's not hard to reconcile for me in the sense that so much of what goes on in our Native arts and writers’ world is very complicated, and there is a lot of contradiction.”

Ortiz says the allegations against Alexie are “immensely complicated” in the Native community, partly because Alexie is one of the few well-known Native writers.

“We have risen him to this star status because we needed him to be a star in so many contexts, and that's problematic.”

Ortiz says that creates a conflict between wanting to elevate the voices of women who say Alexie has harmed them, and wanting to protect one of the few Native artists with national attention.


She says there are other divides, too.

“It feels like there's kind of a civil war of sorts within the Native arts, and literary, and education community where some people want to see it cause a battle of sorts, instead of being more reflective and reasoned about it.”
 
Writing as a former Mars Hill member I very easily get how people can raise someone to a level of celebrity in the belief that what that person had to say was worth supporting.  The symbolic importance of a Sherman Alexie was why those who could have spoken up about how he treated women didn't because it's not like Native Americans have a dominant voice in American culture.  For that matter it's not as though there's even a univocal American Indian voice.  American Indians don't have a pan-skin-colorist conception of tribal identity most of the time, if ever, really.  There's never likely to be a Black Panther level cultural event for American Indians.  I've joked here at the blog that there's never going to be a Spokane Indian Renaissance comparable to the Harlem Renaissance because Sherman Alexie is one writer and one writer does not even a potential renaissance make.  Now it seems fairly certain such a won't-be renaissance really won't be if what has been alleged about Alexie turns out to have merit. 
 
But then in Terry Teachout's biography about Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington, Duke turned out to be a formidable womanizer, though his sexual behaviors were not why Strayhorn nicknamed him "Monster".  Ellington fans have been unhappy with Teachout's biography at several levels but reading how a BMI embargo spurred Ellington's great 1940-1942 period when he decided to hand the reins over to his son and to Billy Strayhorn in arranging to work around the ASCAP membership of his being a problem was fascinating.  You don't hear in the mythologies of jazz legend that a jazz pioneer came up with some of his best work by trying to find a work around for a market embargo between two PROs! 
 
and music is not a universal language, though you knew that. :)

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/why-music-not-universal-language-180968245/

Between the public radio battle and the Native American literary scene battle there are people pointing out that we may have some kind of generational battle in which a cultural regime change is going on.  The men who were the stars within the systems that were held up as champions of good liberal values are under fire for how they have treated women, but in a setting like public radio some of the reigning figures are women.  Demographic scapegoating is no doubt tempting but that these kinds of things are cropping up across the whole spectrum should be a warning that ideological purity doesn't preclude "our" team from these things.  But belief that being on the right team precludes that team having exploiters seems to be what people most want to believe in the rarified if cruel realm of the internet. 

Conor Friedersdorf proposes what writers like David French do and do not understand about intersectionality.

 
Here is intersectionality as David French understands it:

While there’s not yet an Apostle’s Creed of intersectionality, it can roughly be defined as the belief that oppression operates in complicated, “interlocking” ways. So the experience of, say, a white trans woman is different in important ways from the experience of a black lesbian. A white trans woman will experience the privilege of her skin but also oppression due to her gender identity. A black lesbian may experience the privilege of “cis” gender identity but also oppression due to race and sexuality.
 
So far, so good. He continues:

It’s identity politics on steroids, where virtually every issue in American life can and must be filtered through the prisms of race, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

But that is a claim that the insights of intersectionality are being applied too zealously, or to the exclusion of other truths, not that the underlying idea is flawed.  
 
The core insight is true—oppression does operate in complicated, “interlocking” ways—but reflecting on it, and using identity as one of many lenses to see the world fully, needn’t entail a commitment to identity fundamentalism any more than embracing insights of any ideology requires donning the blinders of a fundamentalist ideologue.

What’s more, the statement that activist law students published prior to hijacking their classmates’ event shows that their errors are not rooted in intersectionality’s core insight, whether or not they understand their actions differently.

First, the activists egregiously misrepresented the speaker, inaccurately labeling her “a known fascist.” They did so in service of their attempt to conflate her speech with violence—her appearance would constitute “what we believe to be an act of aggression and violence toward members of our society who experience racial and gendered oppression,” they wrote, though Sommers has made countless speeches all over the country without ever perpetrating any act of violence.
Later in their statement, the activists wrote:

We live in an age when we have come to an understanding of how power works: those calling for “debate” of marginalized people’s humanity fail to recognize how unevenly political power is able to be wielded.

Therein is another misrepresentation—the speaker has never called for a debate of marginalized people’s humanity—but more telling is the claim that “we” now understand “how power works,” a statement that both implies a consensus where none exists and that is staggering in its hubris, as the next passage helps to make clear:

We now understand how language works, and how it can be used to reproduce the systems of oppression we know we must resist at all costs.

Instead of recognizing this and moving forward, some in our community choose to remain in denial of this truth and act to stifle progress in an attempt to preserve the status quo. Free speech is certainly an important tenet to a free, healthy society, but that freedom stops when it has a negative and violent impact on other individuals.

There is no debate here.

The insights of intersectionality would cast doubt on the notion that a small group of cognitively privileged, Anglophone Westerners admitted to a top-100 law school after earning undergraduate degrees in one of the richest countries in the world have surpassed the rest of humanity in achieving a definitive understanding of matters as complex and sweeping as “how power works” and “how language works.”
 
If he'd wanted to be snarkier about it he could had thrown in the closing admonition of "Check your privilege."
 
That language works in one way and power works in another would seem pretty clear and easy to understand.  Power may be wielded through language but for people who aren't into some kind of Word Faith positive confession positive thinking school of thought, the gap between the way language works and the way power works seems pretty easy to remember. 
 
The trouble with intersectionality is not that its advocates are wrong to point out a panoply of variables that do or not confer what's known as "privilege".  We can observe those variables.  The trouble is that if this taxonomy of righteousness is deployed categorically it is just another totalitarian language gambit. 
 
It also tends to skip over matters of class.  Not all white cisgender males are born into the pinnacle of the patriarchy, for instance.  Nobody who could ever be labeled white trash is going to be calling the shots about policy at Lewis & Clark Law School.
 
 

The Big Lebowski at 20 years

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2018/03/06/the-big-lebowski-is-20-we-reached-out-to-the-critics-who-panned-it-to-see-what-they-think-now/?utm_term=.3910f4034702

Jeet Heer put it directly by saying that film critics who first saw The Big Lebowski were blind to its brilliance because they were so ensconced in a commitment to naturalistic narrative they could not appreciate the absurdist inner life of The Dude or the chaotic sprawl of the world-building.

https://newrepublic.com/article/147341/film-critics-blind-big-lebowskis-brilliance

...

The lasting popularity of The Big Lebowski would have surprised most film critics when it first came out. As David Denby wrote in The New Yorker in 2008, the film “received mediocre reviews and did little initial business.” One of the underwhelmed critics was Denby himself. “It’s only amusing the first time the Dude gets lost in his own story—a story so incoherent that he can’t explain it to anyone,” Denby snarled in 1998 in New York magazine.  “What’s the point of scoring off morons who think they are cool? Jeff Bridges has so much dedication as an actor that he sacrifices himself to the Coen brothers’ self-defeating conception. Even Bridges can’t open up a character who remains unconscious.”

The shifting critical fortunes of The Big Lebowski are legendary. Roger Ebert initially gave the movie a mixed review because of its ramshackle plot, which “rushes in all directions and never ends up anywhere.” In 2010, he upgraded The Big Lebowski to the status of a “great” movie. Denby also changed his mind, according to a recent Washington Post survey of critics who initially panned the movie. Others either haven’t revisited it or are still put off by it. Daphne Merkin, in her original New Yorker review, said the movie was “drenched in knowingness” and lacked a “narrative structure.” She likes the movie slightly more now, but not by much. “I think it is a quintessential insider movie, one that plays in this shrewd way to groupthink,” Merkin told the Post. “You’re either in on it, or you’re not in on it.” But even Merkin allowed that “the dude and his disconnected dudeness has a certain appeal now, maybe because the world has grown more horrendous or reality is less bearable than when the film was made.”

The failure of many critics to appreciate The Big Lebowski when it came out illustrates some major blind spots that are common to film critics. The movie fuses a Raymond Chandler–style detective novel plot, about the supposed kidnapping of a rich man’s trophy wife, and a Cheech & Chong–style stoner comedy. Interspersed throughout are Busby Berkeleyesque musical numbers about the Dude’s imaginative inner life.

In short, The Big Lebowski is a very strange movie set in a highly stylized filmic universe: 1991 Los Angeles, as viewed through a haze of marijuana smoke and White Russians. The characters in the movie are not realistic but parodic or even grotesque: not just the Dude, with his Buddha-like calm that verges on complete disengagement, but also his manically aggressive bowling buddy Walter (John Goodman), the browbeating millionaire who shares the Dude’s birth name of Jeffrey Lebowski (David Huddleston), the runaway nympho Bunny Lebowski (Tara Reid), and fleeting roles that include a high-talking Heffner-esque pornographer and a feminist performance artist.

It’s easier to appraise a realistic movie, since everyone is qualified to judge verisimilitude—to compare the film’s world with one’s own. This is why using naturalism has become a default critical yardstick for reviewers, especially those on a tight deadline. Pauline Kael, perhaps the greatest of all American film critics, had very little time for deliberately stylized movies, which is why she panned most of Stanley Kubrick’s works after Dr. Strangelove. Kubrick, like the Coens, preferred to invent worlds rather than mimicking the real one. But by eschewing the conventions of naturalism in The Big Lebowski, the Coen brothers baffled or alienated many critics. Merkin’s 1998 review is a prime example. “The Coens can’t be bothered—or perhaps they don’t know how—to make a connection between what’s inside their smart-aleck heads and the plodding, sometimes painful world in which the rest of us live when we’re not at the movies,” she wrote.

...
It kind of reminded me of something I'd read from the blog of a friend years back who quoted a line from Eve Tushnet.

"Realism" only works for people whose worldviews are already accepted as realistic. The rest of us must make do with genre. 
December 3, 2003 blog post over here

https://eve-tushnet.blogspot.com/search?q=realistic+the+rest+of+us+make+do+with+genre

No, whatever the archive problem was it doesn't seem to have been fixed.

Just about the only thing The Dude could not abide was the music of The Eagles and, well, can't really say I dissent from that opinion, man. Whenever I hear songs by The Eagles now I feel as though that one band can explain the emergence of the entirety of second-wave feminism all by itself. 

Richard Brody on the Oscars as Hollywood veneer is sort of the pot calling the kettle black

 
Richard Brody can tut about the brazen self celebration of Hollywood as much as he likes.  If the Oscars developed, as he has said, as a dog and pony show to distract from the scandals in Hollywood on the subject of how rapine and predatory its power brokers were then, yes, we can readily grant nothing's changing in Hollywood if that's what he's getting at.  #metoo will be a regime change without a policy change.  Exploitation being the nature of the film industry the question could only be who gets exploited and why.  That's if Richard Brody's arguing in good faith.
 
But then we could argue that a film critic isn't capable of making such an argument in good faith by dint of being a paid film critic 
 
And in the case of Richard Brody there is, so to speak, the Clinton question.  To let him pose the nature of the question himself, Brody described what it was like for him, as a loyal Democrat, to consider the fundamental problem with contemporary liberal cinema.  
 

The independent filmmaker Ira Sachs’s drama “Keep the Lights On,” which opened on Friday, is neither an especially good movie nor an especially bad one, but it is an exemplary one. The way that Sachs tells the story—of a thirty-something Danish independent filmmaker in New York and his many years of rocky romance with a publishing executive, another young man of about the same age, who slides into drug addiction—exemplifies, with a remarkable clarity, a mode of filmmaking that pervades the industry these days, particularly among a certain kind of filmmakers. It is the prevailing arthouse way of making films, one that’s seen in such recent films (just a few of many) as Mia Hansen-Løve’s “Goodbye, First Love,” Craig Zobel’s “Compliance,” Steve McQueen’s “Shame,” Olivier Assayas’s “Carlos,” Andrew Haigh’s “Weekend,” Dee Rees’s “Pariah,” and Maren Ade’s “Everyone Else.”
 
These films collect facts in a way that’s reminiscent of documentaries—in many ways their unadorned storytelling shades over into documentary, or, rather, to a narrow view of documentary that represents a diminution and misinterpretation of so-called cinéma vérité—meaning, with an emphasis on the observable, with the camera serving (as it does not in many of the actual documentaries of the movement) as the proverbial fly on the wall, and stripped of inner experience and fantasies, whether with images or sounds. Yet these films are not lacking in psychology—on the contrary, the collection of outer attributes and actions pin the characters to the screen with a clear set of motives.
 
The facts—whether ones that have been lived by the director or historical ones, whether told in poised images or kinetic ones, whether dealing with controversies or uncontroversial intimacies—have no mereness about them, no weighty physical opacity, no sense of the haphazard or the contingent. The movies’ factuality has been filtered through sensibilities as dramatic as they are reticent, and that reticence regarding the display of directorial intervention in the assemblage of incidents that tell the story has consequences that are both aesthetic and political.
 
With the emphasis on the external and the physical reality (little inner life or mental revelations—no fantasies, voice-overs, or hallucinatory interpolations), the filmmakers both tell a story and assert its truth, but, rather than doing so with the moral forthrightness of a foregrounded speaker bearing witness, they do so with the foreclosed self-evidence of the true believer in silent devotion. The ring of truth belongs less to the facts than to the attitudes that the filmmaker brings to them, and what these movies share is an ostensibly progressive or liberal outlook.
 
The filmmakers mistake imagination and fantasy for willful obfuscations of something called, with a quasi-religious intonation, “reality”—and in these films, the ostensible “reality” is rendered doubly “real” because of their basis in the filmmakers’ experience or in history. Their movies are not a window on the external world but a mirror—a distorting mirror that reflects back to the viewer or the critic only his or her good feelings or intentions.
 
The greatest political filmmakers, from Charlie Chaplin to Jean-Luc Godard, are masters of the imaginary. The uninhibited inner life and the power of art to delve into fantastic elements that grant characters dimensions possibly unsuited to a constructive political program are themselves aspects of a higher politics. That’s why there are so few good political films these days, and why such comedies as “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” and “Norbit,” with their messy (even chaotic) boundary-blurring, are superior to the films listed above as approaches to hot-button issues. And, in an entirely different and grander and finer register, Spike Lee’s “Red Hook Summer” faces the deep unpleasantness that can mark characters who are, in many ways, admirable; revels in their extravagant expressivity, whether to ecstasy or to self-destruction; and dramatizes the warping and self-warping force of the will to document the supposed facts.
 
The facts do not speak for themselves, and there’s a remarkable and disheartening correlation between those who film as if they do and those who, imbuing these facts with a built-in point of view, are unwilling to stand in front of those facts and state that point of view. The underlying question is why movies made by many filmmakers whose point of view is, by and large, so sympathetic, tolerant, and liberal (and whose point of view I tend to share, by the way) are built on such a painful narrowing of experience and a surreptitious attitudinizing—why they’re films of personal commitment that remain, nonetheless, impersonal. It’s as if filmmakers (and, for that matter, critics, playing a surreptitious role as op-ed columnists) were protecting viewers from the potential effect of nasty or regressive or hateful thoughts; their own cultivated selves are are immune from them even if angered by them, but the poor bewildered viewer needs some protection from loose ends of imagination that could potentially lead in the wrong direction.
 
The Stakhanovite values of socialist realism have given way to the mild and sentimental ones of liberal realism; but the brazen hysteria of overt propaganda is a truer framework for political art—for the representation of will, faith, and power that political action depends on—than the tacitly closed circle of self-approving sympathies. The problem is not with liberalism in cinema as such (Wes Anderson’s post-scriptural “Moonrise Kingdom” is, after all, a masterwork, and Nanni Moretti’s ferociously anticlerical “We Have a Pope” borrows its furious ending from “The Great Dictator”) but with the liberal cinema as a genre. The arena of practical politics is the place for constructive and responsible approaches to identified problems; the realm of art is the place of dangerous imagination and the vision of terrifying, or even merely uncomfortable, possibilities. And nothing undermines the actual quest for political progress like the sense that it would imply the denial or the repudiation of primal, atavistic, or impulsively unwelcome feelings.
 
Like many other Democrats and many liberals, I revelled in Bill Clinton’s speech the other night, and endorse my colleague Ben Greenman’s tweeted proposal to name him the Secretary of Explaining Things. But I haven’t forgotten the Bill Clinton of lust and shame; they’re the same great man, and putting them into the same movie together, as one, unstintingly, is the first liberal paradox—and the essential liberal principle. The rest is campaign rhetoric.
 
The same great man isn't a statement about Bill Clinton I could really agree with.  It's a little tough to forget that axiom attributed to Lord Acton about how great men are rarely ever good men. 
 
But Brody's worry is relatively simple to translate, a fear that mainstream liberal cinema had devolved to a level of self-congratulating and  cloying moralism of a sort that someone like Brody might expect of a Veggie Tales episode if he ever watched those.  The trouble with any outrage about what the current president seems to have gotten away with is what Clinton seems to have gotten away with twenty years ago.  In this respect the left seems to have had a point about the liberal mainstream as to having a lack of moral capital from which to condemn a Trump for simply being for the right what Clinton was for the Clinton-defined liberal center. 
 
Conservatives have been saying in the last few years there is a crisis inherent in liberalism itself, a trajectory within any given se tof convictions or bedrocks of a culture that is parasitically dependent upon but unable to transcend or break free from whatever the bedrock of a society is.  Conservatives in an Anglo-American or European West will tend to say ethnicity or religion are the bedrock from which a liberal tendency cannot stray too far without betraying its own capacity to give liberty to social and political subjects. 
 
A mainstream liberal film critic like Richard Brody at some point has to explain what the basis may be for consecrating consumption.  In this respect even someone like Francis Schaeffer could grant that in some ways a conservative Protestant and a Marxist could agree that truth content matters.  I don't merely joke in saying that a postmillennialist theonomist and a Marxist are more or less the same to me in terms of their respectively teleological historicisms.  I reject both on eschatological and apocalyptic grounds but you don't want to read about that.  No,  I'm suggesting that the trouble with a Brody is that the arts critic has to consecrate the kind of cultural consumption that at some point is inimical to a liberal cause in the sense that the class divide becomes too insuperable.  Only someone who writes for The New Yorker cares enough about The Oscars to care about its self-justifying ceremony ... but only a vocational film critic would think that watching movies makes you an actually better person or even constitutes a plausible defense of the Western liberal tradition.  In that sense a religious conservative like Rod Dreher might be more committed to a defense of stabilizing Western liberal traditions by dint of emphasizing what the liberal trajectory has historically operated within from a Western standpoint than a Richard Brody who has just gotten tired of reviewing movie after movie.    
 
My own ad hoc approach to film criticism and film viewing is that if at any point I feel all the movies seem to be the same that is not necessarily a sign that there are too many movies that are all the same or that there are too many movies; it's more a signal to me that I'm watching too many movies and that making stuff is also an option.  The bifurcation between critic and creative artist seems to be a problem in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.  One of the ways those problems can emerge is by way of a film critic at The New Yorker complaining about the self-justifying ways of Hollywood as if being a film critic conferred some kind of lack of complicity in the empire of cinema.  There's nothing about the nature of cinema as an art form that requires it to be liberal in any way about anything.  It's not that Brody has no reason to worry that liberal cinema as a genre has become preening and pedantic, it's that I am simply suggesting that maybe the guy has watched too many movies already if he's in a position to notice such a worrisome trend.  I am just not sure what it is about Americans watching movies that makes the world a better place and I'm not sure anyone can convince me there's a way that that proposal can ever make any sense.  It's not that I don't love watching movies now and then, or watching TV, it's just that I have been relatively outspoken about my doubts about the legitimacy and viability of Western art religion of the sort that was promoted by Richard Wagner and that is at some level or another some kind of article of faith at publications like The New Yorker.  The arts might have more actual power and influence if we imputed quite a bit less power to them in principle.
 
I would propose there's another way to clarify the crisis of liberal art religion which I distilled down into a little poem, conveniently enough, for the sake of those who do love the arts but do not regard art religion in the Western liberal tradition as something to be taken at face value
 
Every arts critic
must consecrate consumption
to live with their craft.