Tuesday, November 14, 2017

another gentle irony alert from authors published at Slate, on how in the era of Trump liberals are described as less likely to believe in lies when Slate contributors seemed pretty sure Trump couldn't possibly win

In light of pieces previously published at Slate such as
Donald Trump Could Have Been President
Let’s never forget what a terrifying thing we almost did.
Donald Trump is never going to be the president of the United States. As we sit and digest each successive leak of damaging material, each un-endorsement, each Trump threat to attack Hillary Clinton in the most personal terms imaginable, the fact remains that Trump has almost surely destroyed his chance of ever becoming the most powerful man on Earth. The discussion will now slowly shift to Republican hopes of shoring up down-ballot races and (just wait) the creation of Trump TV. But we cannot and should not forget: A couple days ago it was still fathomable that America could have voted into office the biggest threat to the country in decades.
previously mentioned here
There's something pitiably charming about a piece like this, in which a Slate author has an article leading with the headline that proposes why it is conservatives are more likely to believe in lies than liberals.
Although Freud is out of favor with many contemporary psychologists, modern cognitive psychology suggests that he was on the right track. The tenacity of many of the right’s beliefs in the face of evidence, rational arguments, and common sense suggest that these beliefs are not merely alternate interpretations of facts but are instead illusions rooted in unconscious wishes.
This is a very human thing to do. As popular writers such as Daniel Kahneman, Cass Sunstein, and Richard Thaler have pointed out, we often use shortcuts when we reason, shortcuts that enable us to make decisions quickly and with little expenditure of mental energy. But they also often lead us astray—we underestimate the risks of events that unfold slowly and whose consequences are felt only over the long term (think global warming) and overestimate the likelihood of events that unfold rapidly and have immediate consequences (think terrorist attacks).
Our reasoning is also influenced (motivated, psychologists would say) by our emotions and instincts. This manifests in all kinds of ways: We need to maintain a positive self-image, to stave off anxiety and guilt, and to preserve social relationships. We also seek to maintain consistency in our beliefs, meaning that when people simultaneously hold two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values,
Twenty years ago when Bill Clinton was facing things like an impeachment process and allegations of sexual misconduct one of the arguments made in his favor was that how a man behaves as a private citizen should have no immediate bearing on consideration of whether he is fit for political office.  When people ask, almost always rhetorically, how conservatives got to a point where they were willing to endorse and vote for Trump despite his history with women the answer may turn out to be that red state voters just decided that they wanted a Bill Clinton of their own, what's good for the goose could be good for the gander.  It doesn't make either side "right" but the turnabout-is-fair-play gambit doesn't seem that hard to understand.  It just means that what I've been suggesting here about how the red state and blue state civic religions are ultimately observably the same cynical power-hungry realpolitik might be at least partly correct.
I still think that Trump and Clinton securing the nominations was an irremediable disaster for the United States but I've also seen how for the partisans who committed to those two candidates there's probably no point in attempting to reason with those teams. 

Amanda Hess asks "Can we now do away with the idea of `separating the art from the artist?'" which seems like an indisputable point but ...

even if Hess raises a point that should seem to be easy to agree with, that we shouldn't keep separating the art from the artist, there will always be some guy who insists we need to keep them separate out of admiration for some artist or another.  Why?
Because in the history of Anglo-American arts discourse someone will always bring up the Puritans as a trump card for why we shouldn't conflate art and artist.  Sure, someone "could" recall that someone said that out of the abundance of the mouth the heart speaks and that the overflow of the heart informs artistic exploration.  Sure, someone could suggest that what you choose to depict in the arts could depict what you think about so regularly it becomes a kind of mental/emotional surplus that reflects who you are, but .... the Puritans.
Still, even keeping that in mind, here's some of what Hess has argued.
Amanda Hess
Can we now do away with the idea of “separating the art from the artist”?
Whenever a creative type (usually a man) is accused of mistreating people (usually women), a call arises to prevent those pesky biographical details from sneaking into our assessments of the artist’s work. But the Hollywood players accused of sexual harassment or worse — Harvey Weinstein, James Toback, Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K., to name a few from the ever-expanding list — have never seemed too interested in separating their art from their misdeeds. We’re learning more every day about how the entertainment industry has been shaped by their abuses of power. It’s time to consider how their art has been, too.
These men stand accused of using their creative positions to offend — turning film sets into hunting grounds; grooming young victims in acting classes; and luring female colleagues close on the pretext of networking, only to trap them in uninvited sexual situations. The performances we watch onscreen have been shaped by those actions. And their offenses have affected the paths of other artists, determining which rise to prominence and which are harassed or shamed out of work. In turn, the critical acclaim and economic clout afforded their projects have worked to insulate them from the consequences of their behavior.
This idea of assessing an artist’s work in light of his biography is, to some critics, blasphemous. Roman Polanski’s 2009 arrest inspired a New York Times round table on whether we ought to “separate the work of artists from the artists themselves, despite evidence of reprehensible or even criminal behavior.” It stands as a useful artifact of the prevailing attitude on the question in the early 21st century. The screenwriter and critic Jay Parini wrote, “Being an artist has absolutely nothing — nothing — to do with one’s personal behavior.” Mark Anthony Neal, an African-American studies scholar at Duke University, put it this way: “Let the art stand for itself, and these men stand in judgment, and never the twain shall meet.”
But Mr. Polanski stood charged of inviting a 13-year-old girl into Jack Nicholson’s hot tub on the pretext of photographing her as a model, and then drugging and raping her. The twain have met.
That tradition lives on today. Recently, the New Yorker film critic Richard Brody responded to sexual assault accusations against Mr. Weinstein by suggesting that while outside information about filmmakers “can be illuminating,” the “better a film is, the likelier that the biography only fills in details regarding what should already have been apparent to a cleareyed viewing.” That’s a bizarre calculation that dismisses discussions of bad deeds based on the talent of the person performing them. The journalist Gay Talese was blunter in his dismissal of Anthony Rapp, the “Rent” star who accused Kevin Spacey of preying on him when he was 14. “I hate that actor that ruined that guy’s career,” he said.
Over at IndieWire there's a battery of film critics who, perhaps predictably, say that things may be murkier than they appear.  The question asked was, "How should the backstory of a film and / or its makers impact the way we receive it?"  The question was not Hess' question, can we finally set aside the assumption that art must be separated from artist, obviously.  There's an explicit, if still subtextual to the text of the question itself, backdoor kept open in the question of "how should ... ?"  With that established, answers.
Kate Erbland (@katerbland), IndieWire

When horrifying accusations like the ones waged against Harvey Weinstein come to light, it’s very easy to scream for a boycott and move on (and, as we often see in cases like these, then actually ignoring it and not even holding fast to such public pronouncements), but when it comes to the question of what to actually do and how to really proceed, it gets murkier. And when it comes to cases like this, where years and years of art and cinema, mostly made by other people, are liable to be effected, it’s even trickier.

Harvey didn’t make these films, even if he produced them or distributed them or, as so many people know he loves to do, edited them in his own shape, and there’s a tremendous amount of work that went on far beyond his reach. But they do feel tainted now, and likely always will.

How do we watch? With an eye to the good people and talented artists who helped make them, and with a tremendous amount of care and respect when they involve women who have spoken out against Weinstein, who have voiced their own allegations. To ignore the films is to also ignore them, and that’s not something that should make anyone feel good. The key, however, is to watch and remember with respect and care. Think about the women who persevered to make their art, not the man who tried to stop them or change them for his own sick gains.

At the risk of asking an obvious question what is it about the label "producer" that precludes a man like Harvey Weinstein making a film?  Maybe it's just because I've been slogging through Adorno but reading Marxist arts criticism makes it hard to just ignore that any common-sense reading of "producer" would suggest that if a producer didn't decide to produce something it wouldn't get made at all or it would be produced by some other producer, right?  Or does that common-sense reading not apply in the art of cinema or music? 

Joshua Rothkopf (@joshrothkopf), Time Out New York

It’s the flip side to auteurism in a way: When we critics fabricate a connection between a filmmaker’s output — from year to year, project to project — we’re engaging in a kind of pop psychology that desires a coherence that may not exist. But isn’t it equally as valid to suggest that an artist’s actual life (personal indiscretions and all) might be the real skeleton holding a career together? That’s why auteurism only goes so far for me — it often leaves out the dirty stuff. Directors are complicated people. I want to engage with that complexity, for better or worse. So it’s much more exciting for me to think about “mother!” as a massively expensive piece of public therapy made by an egotistical yet honestly self-critical artist, instead of some bullshit allegory about Gaea or Mother Earth.
It's impossible to resist the observation that the new My Little Pony film has higher global box office returns than mother!  The question as to who Aronofsky was ultimately making his movie for and why it was worth making has not really come up among film critics.  It can be easy to grant that maybe an artist's life or interests should be considered a foundation for the art that he or she makes and then the case study is a film that has managed to make budget in global box office terms but that hasn't exactly made a ton of money.  Still, these quoted sentiments are better than what Richard Brody came up with.

Richard Brody (@tnyfrontrow), The New Yorker

Whatever a viewer knows about a film and a filmmaker can be illuminating. Criticism is a matter of making the useful connections. But the better a film is, the likelier that the biography only fills in details regarding what should already have been apparent to a clear-eyed viewing.
What should have been apparent to a clear-eyed viewing is a film critic who can think Lady Susan Vernon is somehow the sympathetic hero of Love & Friendship isn't nearly as capable of a clear-eyed viewing as he seems to think he is.  What part of a character explicitly saying of Vernon "She's a fiend" did Brody miss?

Slate's Dan Stevens, whose enthusiasm for Louis C. K. has never been difficult to find, sat down and reviewed his latest film in the wake of allegations made against the comedian, allegations the comedian has since confirmed to be true.  Stevens' review is longer than what will be quoted here, but there's a passage that sticks with me.


I was alone on my couch for a reason: My partner, who normally likes the same shows I do, couldn’t get into Louie, nor quite express why. He abandoned it a few episodes in, which I considered a lapse in taste I would generously overlook. But I continued watching on my own, saving up a few episodes to consume in a row as a treat. I’d be teased, on my way to watch “my Louies,” about my crush on Louis C.K., sometimes with variations on the theme of how, the more perverse his humor got, the more I liked him. And here’s the hard part to write now: That characterization wasn’t inaccurate. His willingness to visit what seemed like the darkest places of his own psyche (as it turned out, there were darker places) read as vulnerability. And vulnerability—God damn it, even this observation sounds creepy now—can be sexy.

and then, if you haven't inferred this by now, it stopped being sexy and began to seem repellant, nauseating and gross in light of new information about the character and conduct of the artist.

See, at the risk of pointing out the obvious I've documented the peak and decline of the Mars Hill Church era in Puget Sound without necessarily setting out to do so in the roughly eleven years I've done blogging.  I started off as someone who was frustrated with things I considered bad about the culture of Mars Hill but felt the positives outweighed the negatives.  Over the course of ten years I began to regard the negatives as dramatically, even exponentially outweighing the positives I thought I saw in the corporate culture.  But I also came to a realization that there's always a cult in every culture, and it's a lot easier to label something a cult if it's a culture you don't relate to while regarding the cult of your own culture as essentially, if not comprehensively, inviolate.  I haven't seen what Louis C. K. is known for but I can't help but wonder whether those people who have admired his work and enjoyed what he's done up until very, very recently, couldn't do a comparison contrast to a couple of sermons by Mark Driscoll and ask themselves what the differences are when it comes to bros being bros. 

It seems fair to ask, admittedly as a rhetorical question, whether the reason we want to separate the art from the artist is precisely because we know the artist has said and done things that we don't think a moral and socially well-adjusted person should ever do.  But it's not just Christians of the most conservative sort who have a pious bias.  Stevens tipped us off to something sacred, something sexy, a kind of vulnerability that is perceived (or perhaps simply read into) some kind of art that is venerated.  It may be that even among arts critics there's always a temptation to transpose ourselves on to the art we admire and in that sense Adorno was probably wrong, every arts critic has a philistine, if by philistine we take Adorno's definition of the person who only enjoys or admires work to the extent that he can find himself in the artwork.  There's no reason to assume Adorno himself didn't have his own philistine, though.  And the philistine in Adorno disliked jazz but that's another topic for another time.

The more challenging process in art interpretation might not be separating the artist from the art but learning to separate your admiration for some quality about the art you admire from your understanding if who you are and what your convictions are.  The propensity to read yourself onto work you admire is inescapable in the end but you can step back and ask yourself what you admire about an artist or a realm of art.  I admire the visual inventiveness and beauty of Hayao Miyazaki's films without subscribing to pantheism, which I fundamentally disagree with.  I can admire what, in Christian terms, could be construed as Miyazaki presenting humanity as broken yet bearing within it a divine spark.  Miyazaki regards that spark as a sign of pantheism and as a Christian I regard that as being made in the image of God, while an atheist would perhaps see some kind of general human dignity if they're into Miyazaki's films. 

What this process entails is respecting the metaphysical differences between yourself as a person and the artist as a person.  It's possible to admire the work of artists you regard as fundamentally wrong about the most essential metaphysical questions in life or even as morally terrible people on some issue while admiring their best traits in some other field of activity. I adore the music of Haydn and admire him in many respects as a man while regarding him as having been a terrible husband.  Bad people can be brilliant artists and remarkably decent people can be terrible artists but I don't really go in for the Lord Byron Romantic era garbage about how artists who are great enough can be however bad they want.  People who seriously endorse that sort of view don't understand that, at the most essential level, they've had to endorse a view that allowed thousands of people to say that Mark Driscoll had his flaws but he was still ultimately a great guy.

If the Puritans seem bad to so many Americans for declining to separate art from artists our very critique of them depends upon taking the refusal to completely separate art from artist seriously.  In other words, Americans will always be stuck in the double bind of wanting to condemn the Puritans for ultimately failing to fully live out the very criteria by which we're stuck finding them wanting.  They failed in several ways to grasp that they could one day perpetrate and perpetuate themselves the kinds of injustices they saw the institutions of their day perpetrating and perpetuating.  We all face that problem whether we want to admit to it or not.

But arts critics are going to have to face it in a unique way since while many people choose to overlook what they regard as moral failures on account of productive results the entertainment industry has tried to have it both ways on moral condemnation of others while hiding its own venality, much like any number of people associated with Religious Right causes turn out to have been doing for a generation, too.  We can't admit that we're turning out to be bad people but we can admit that we think those other people are bad, even if it's turning out that their team has been doing more or less the same terrible stuff our team has been doing. 

Here's an idea to mull over, for whatever little it may be worth, when scandals about the conduct of powerful people emerge the temptation to impute that conduct to the ideals or politics espoused by the person is overwhelming and the kinds of people who take to social media to say so are swift to equate the conduct with the ideology or dogmas expressed by whoever has turned out to be on the baddest behavior.  Christopher Hitchens could snipe that moral crusaders would turn out to have been immoral.  Fair enough, so long as Hitchens himself isn't exempted from dreading "Islamo-fascism" on the one hand and advocating pre-emptive war on the part of the United States against threats the validity and viability of which is still subject to at least some debate. When the best an atheist can do is formulate a "no true Scotsman" fallacy to exempt men from being atheists who played a role in totalitarian regimes on account of the "as if it were a religion" then the bad faith of the case should be obvious to anyone who can extricate themselves from motivated reasoning long enough to see that there's no inherent reason being an atheist or a theist in and of itself makes you a good or bad person.  Even Christians have a sacred text that admonishes us to watch our life and doctrine closely because the doctrine by itself can be affirmed by even demons. 

And if artists behave like demons but their art is considered admirable enough, well, we'll always have people attempting to separate art from the artist. It's easier to do that than to have a reckoning with ourselves for why we enjoy and admire art by people we regard as actually bad people on one issue or another. I have not really bothered to read A. O. Scott's Better Living Through Criticism (yet) because the title embodies and distills an error I think has been permeating Anglo-American arts journalism for probably a generation--to borrow the useful phrases, the bourgeois art religion has become meta in the era of post-modernism, so the art religion has shifted from art itself to arts criticism.  In a way it's all too easy to invoke the Frankfurt school without quoting Adorno at the start of Aesthetic Theory:

Aesthetic Theory
Theodore Adorno
Copyright (c) 1997 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota

ISBN 0-8264-6757-1

page 1
It is self-evident that nothing concerning art is self-evident anymore, not its inner life, not its relation to the world, not even its right to exist. ...

page 2
As a result of its inevitable withdrawal from theology, from the unqualified claim to the truth of salvation, a secularization without which art would never have developed, art is condemned to provide the world as it exists with a consolation that—shorn of any hope of a world beyond—strengthens the spell of that from which the autonomy of art wants to free itself. ...

And yet here we are in the 21st century and A. O. Scott has a book called Better Living Through Criticism.  The unqualified claim to the truth of salvation moved from art to criticism.  And, depending on your mileage, some might include blogging in criticism.  That's too insider a joke, but I finished reading a book about public relations and church where the author says that no less than the Gospel is involved in whether your church decides to blog about it.  That's best saved for some other time, but I mention it because the trope of salvation through judicious media use is something professional Christians can say in all seriousness, so it's hardly something we can't find implicitly said in the realm of arts criticism.  A. O. Scott just happened to make that the official title of a book he wrote, maybe the rest just hope it can be implied.

Arts critics seem to want to run with the assumption that the necessity as well as the right of art to exist is so self-evident that any questions as to its why and what is beyond consideration. It's easier to debate whether mother! is an ecological parable than to ask why anyone would spend close to forty million dollars making such a parable when not making any movies might be a faster way to reduce the use of fossil fuels and associated products. This transforms into a claim that religion won't save the world but art will, even if the means of producing art depends on the very technologies and resource consumption processes that may do more to imperil the long-term health of the biosphere than just about anything else.  But American studios would rather make blockbuster movies about how our way of life will imperil the planet than ... just stop making new movies.

On the whole the responses published at IndieWire reminded me why I felt inspired to write a haiku a few years back that goes as follows.

every arts critic
must consecrate consumption
to live with their craft.

you can learn something new every day, like how some corporations have tried to hand off their patens to Native American tribes so they don't have to be subjected to Patent Trial and Appeal Board review

Given the frequency with which Native American tribes have had promises broken by the federal government you'd think people would never have thought the prospect of assigning a patent to a tribe so as to preclude some kind of review process would never have been considered a good idea to begin with.
Well, you can learn something new every day. 
 Part of the rationale behind the implementation of the PTAB and a new IPR procedure was to address the heavy volume of patent litigation in the courts brought by non-practicing entities (“NPEs”) seeking to obtain revenue from patent portfolios they obtained and were seeking to monetize, essentially providing an alternate mechanism for post-grant review of patent claims (albeit on limited grounds based upon prior art). Since its implementation, IPRs in the PTAB have resulted in far more patents being completely invalidated (as opposed to just some, or none, of the claims in the patents at issue), becoming a weapon of choice to patent defendants seeking to invalidate the patents being asserted against them. Without question, IPRs have had a significant impact on patent practice and patent portfolios.
In yet another effort to game the system, ever-creative legal minds have found a way to theoretically bypass PTAB scrutiny by placing patents in the hands of Native American tribes in exchange for royalties, using sovereign immunity to evade PTAB jurisdiction. For example, Irish pharmaceutical company Allergan PLC recently transferred the patents to its popular eye drug Restasis to the Saint Regis Mohawk tribe in the State of New York, with an exclusive grant-back license to Allergan for an upfront fee and ongoing royalty. Allergan has been quite forthcoming that its rationale for doing so has been to “ strengthen the defense” of its Restasis patents in IPRs in the PTAB. [emphasis added]
While hiding behind the shield of sovereign immunity is an intriguing strategy, state versus tribal sovereign immunity are very, very different things. Native American tribes are subject to sovereign immunity through congressional action, while the states enjoy sovereign immunity under the 11th Amendment of the U.S Constitution. Amending the Constitution is far less likely than an act of Congress, and I wouldn’t bet on a patent protection strategy that is subject to congressional whim. In fact, Congress has opened an investigation into the Allergan transfer, and Senator Claire McCaskill has already submitted (albeit hastily) a bill in the Senate to prohibit transfers to Native American tribes that are structured to take advantage of tribal sovereign immunity. Given the tumultuous times in Washington, D.C. as of late, it’s good to remember: What Congress giveth, Congress can take away.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Jonathan Sturgeon on Spielberg's role in freezing our culture in adolescence, but he doesn't suggest that Spielberg's trick is to vicariously re-enchant the world for adults through cinematic children or attempt to propose what's wrong with that

There will probably never be a shortage of high-brow disdain for the not-high-enough-brow arts.  Spielberg has been a reliable target for a generation or two now, as has George Lucas.  Spielberg may be a more convenient target because amid the highs and lows of his filmography he doesn't exactly have a set of Star Wars prequels.  But Sturgeon's piece is pedestrian in its condescension and indignation.  It's the easiest thing in the contemporary literary world to say that Spielberg's entire filmography is some kind of kitsch.  But that won't stop Sturgeon from underlining the point in case people forgot or, in case there's some possibility that the argument could convince those who might otherwise still be fans of Spielberg's films or the designated (by Sturgeon) heirs of Spielberg are naked emperors.
Who is Spielberg? Hollywood’s vanishing mediator, Spielberg is hard to know, but it’s not hard to know why. Susan Lacy, the director of the HBO documentary, has been candid about the lack of crisis in the director’s personal history, which began in a benign suburb of Phoenix. His dad was an important computer scientist, and his mom was a concert pianist. The climacteric of his entire life, Spielberg says, was their divorce, which he long blamed on his father’s lack of vigor; his frustration once boiled over when he repeatedly shouted “crybaby!” at his dad, who wept silently at dinner. (The scene was later recreated in Close Encounters of the Third Kind). In what would amount to the greatest irony he’d ever know—which may explain the near-total lack of irony in his films—it turned out that his mother was in love with his father’s best friend, which led her to ask for divorce.
Rather than be honest about the humdrum inscrutability of Spielberg, Lacy follows Spielberg’s own example and mythologizes childhood—Spielberg’s childhood. The idea is that Spielberg, a lonely child from a somewhat broken family, withdrew into a fantasy realm of ameliorating make-believe which inspired his later filmmaking. (It is never considered that Spielberg could simply afford a camera at an early age, or that family connections may have helped him get an early start in Hollywood.) Spielberg then reproduced this sense of childhood wonderment in the many young protagonists and aliens and adventures of his franchises. This narrative seems true to me, at least in one respect: the Spielberg model of childhood is very much with us today, and it demands that children prefer robust “worlds” and escapist fantasies and formulaic genres to art that finds weirdness in our own shared world. Even now the vacuous franchises that were offered to Gen-X children by New Hollywood are being forced on their own children, who are now babysat with the idea that full-bodied worlds can substitute for the missing love from a mother or a father.
Twenty-first century Hollywood, too, acts as a child of divorce—its imagination thrives in the dead zone of separation between a dwindling filmgoing public and any idea this public might have of a collective project (or meaningful social life). And it acts as a child of divorce because it is, like many of us, the progeny of Spielbergism. The opportunistic self-referencing found in the current Marvel superhero “universe” films descends from comic books, yes, but it’s also an evolution of the ultra-successful experiment in cross-referencing hatched by Spielberg and George Lucas, who made entertainments together, like Raiders of the Lost Ark, and alluded to each other’s work in their films. “The walls of the children’s bedrooms in Poltergeist,” noted critic Andrew Britton in the 1980s, “are festooned with Star Wars memorabilia.”
Almost no one would argue that Spielberg’s films are good, and yet he continues to make them with impunity. This is the fault of film critics like David Edelstein and A.O. Scott, who defend Spielberg in Spielberg by shortchanging his detractors: What’s the point of criticizing Spielberg? What’s so bad about being a director of quality entertainments? This defense comes from Spielberg himself. When asked to respond to one unnamed critic’s assertion that his films shouldn’t be confused with art, Spielberg gets about as mad as a rich man can. “Sometimes,” he says, “I think that statements like that are pretentious in themselves because it says that art is serious and that art can’t move you; art can’t be on a bicycle and fly across the moon—that that can’t be art.” It’s mesmerizing to behold: Spielberg’s self-defense becomes self-reference. Why can’t art be E.T.? Why can’t E.T. be art?
In Aesthetic Theory even Adorno quoted an axiom by a writer who said that there can be bad good art and good bad art.  How certain is an author like Sturgeon that Spielberg can't be good bad art rather than bad bad art, seeing as it's a foregone conclusion that Spielberg is excluded from being good good art?
Contemporary Hollywood films, like all of Spielberg’s films, get worse with repeated viewings. Yet almost any person you talk to will attempt to justify the intake of Hollywood garbage by way of the Spielbergian defense: What’s so wrong with consuming expensively made trash? This suggests that there is indeed something drug-like about twenty-first century entertainment, and it’s frustrating to admit that the comparison between Hollywood and “our national addiction to foreign oil” is a worthwhile one. (If it’s not Hollywood, it’s “binging” on streaming TV.) And this druggishness explains in part why filmmakers like Spielberg and Christopher Nolan (another child of divorce who reconvenes broken families in his films) rely heavily on the idea of “the cinematic experience”; if their films can drown you in wonderment—loud sounds, 70mm images, fully realized worlds—the first time, you’ll revisit them over and again, even though they are bad, in a bid to reclaim the original high. The high inevitably diminishes, and the dependency grows.
When has Christopher Nolan reconvened broken families in his films?  Does Leonard get his wife back in Memento?  Does Pacino's character in the remake of Insomnia get reunited with a relative instead of dying at the end?  When did Bruce Wayne get his parents back anywhere in the Batman trilogy?  Jackman's character doesn't get his wife back in The Prestige, he discovers he's been a murderer.  Cobb was never in the real world for the super-majority of Inception and he doesn't get his wife back, although he admits he believes he was directly responsible for her suicide. Sturgeon's assertion that Nolan reconvenes broken families in his films seems hard to square with my having watched pretty much every Christopher Nolan film.  Just because the father and daughter reunite (at the moment of her death) in Interstellar doesn't mean such reunions are the norm in Nolan's work.  There's a more plausible case to be made that every Nolan male protagonist reaches a point where he realizes he's guilty of murder either by an act of commission or by an act of omission.  Since we never get a clear resolution as to whether Cobb returned to the real world the reunion of that family in Inception deliberately ends on a question mark.

I doubt my life will be appreciably better if I read James Joyce, on the other hand.  I'm not even really a fan of Spielberg overall.  But rather than suggest that children of divorce who go on to make movies are trapped in some kind of juvenile mindset or in infantilism by way of literary implication, it might be useful to come up with some ideas for why broken families and the formation of family surrogates has permeated pop culture.  After all, couldn't people suggest that the formation and celebration of surrogate family life is a thread in, oh, gay cinema?  Not that I'm really in the habit of watching gay cinema but I have a gay friend or two who persuaded me to watch a film or two that were regarded as landmark films in that scene.  The trouble with a Sturgeon approach is that merely declaring that directors like Spielberg and Nolan are fixated on blockbuster filmmaking is less an act of informative film criticism and more an act of aesthetic (and not necessarily even moral) judgment.
Let's see if we can do one better than a bromide about juvenile entertainment.  Why would a storyteller like Spielberg, who came from a family with divorce, might keep coming back to childhood or reform families.  The wish-fulfillment of knitting families together seems obvious enough, artists can desire to obtain within their art what they fail to accomplish in life.  Someone could even suggest that a composer like Mozart strove to achieve a balance in art he never came close to achieving in life.
But let's try another, related angle of attack.  Kitsch is said to be fabricated emotion but what's being fabricated?  In a film by Spielberg, especially something like E.T.,  or Spielberg's cinematic descendants we're getting stories in genres where the world is not as pedestrian and stifling and closed off as it feels like it is for people living in cities or suburbs. If we're living in an era in which the supernatural is rejected as being outside the realm of possible or rationally thinkable then you can't re-enchant the world that way in art.  What you "can" do is re-enchant the world vicariously for grown-ups through the way the often choose to re-enchant the world for themselves vicariously, through children, most often their own children but someone else's children can do in a pinch or the swipe of a card at the cinema.  The problem with this formula is that it's a formula, it can be picked up and broken down into stages and thanks to Lucas fans it's been broken down into stages countless times by way of the Hero's Journey. 
Merely saying there is a spell being cast in these films does nothing to break the spell.  The trouble is that if the films of Spielberg exemplify a new opioid for the masses what do you plan to replace it with? 
Not everyone who goes through divorce tries to vicariously reassemble the family or re-enchant the world the way Spielberg does.  Some take the discovery of moral evil and betrayal and transform that into musings on how men convince themselves they are the heroes of their own narratives without realizing they're actually villains.  That is, in a sentence, where Christopher Nolan has gone in the majority of his films, yes, even his Batman films.  What makes Sturgeon's invocation of Spielberg and Nolan seem just a bit too pat is that I've never heard a line in a Nolan film comparable to Jeff Goldblum's "Life finds a way".  There's not exactly a moment that corresponds to the "I could have done more" line in Schindler's List.  The self-deluding man who kills for what he regards as a righteous cause that is ultimately self-serving is such a recurring motif in Nolan's films it would seem like an easy thing for a writer like Sturgeon to look at but that wasn't the point of interest for Sturgeon.

Instead, the idea is that Nolan can be understood as an heir of the Spielbergian cinematic formula by simple way of the medium as if there's no distinguishing message.  Even if the thread of the lies people tell themselves and each other to maintain the illusion of civilization keeps showing up in Nolan's work (yes, even in Dunkirk, for those who saw the twist at the end where the child who got murdered by a panicking escaped soldier is described as a war hero rather than a victim) that's probably just not the kind of theme or thread that would get attention from the writers who publish at The Baffler, perhaps.  But then the lineage of highbrow disdain for lowbrow media seems hard to avoid for journalists who cover the visual arts scenes in Anglo-American coverage.  The possibility that, whatever their limitations, Gil Kane and Steve Ditko made more memorable drawings than Frank Stella made paintings might just not be on the table. To get back to Adorno's reference, it may be possible there's good bad art and bad good art whether or not we feel any obligation to agree with an Adorno or a Sturgeon. 

But with Spielberg it doesn't seem particularly difficult to propose that across many of his films he resorts to children as a way to vicariously re-enchant the world so that we who watch his films can have the world vicariously re-enchanted for ourselves through the cinematic child.  It would only have taken a few more sentences to have touched on that trope in Spielberg's work but it just didn't come up.  It wouldn't be that difficult to suggest that in an increasingly irreligious society in terms of formal dogmas that the new opiate of the masses is something like television or film but that pedestrian punchline was pulled off more memorably by Bill Watterson in Calvin & Hobbes decades ago. 

I know this was published in The Baffler but it read more like a piece I'd expect to see in Jacobin.

a Baffler piece "on the liberal cult of the cognitive elite" made it pretty easy to remember a few pieces from aeon.co in advocacy of things that only make sense to self-identified cognitive elites

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was an intellectual sophisticate par excellence, and one of the titans of the early twentieth-century Progressive movement. In 1927 he wrote for an 8-1 Supreme Court majority that included another Progressive titan, Louis Brandeis. In this landmark ruling, the court found that the surgical sterilization of a woman named Carrie Buck was constitutional. The 1924 state law under examination in the case of Buck v. Bell affirmed, as Holmes summarized, that “the health of the patient and the welfare of society may be promoted in certain cases by the sterilization of mental defectives, under careful safeguard.” That was because “the Commonwealth [of Virginia] is supporting in various institutions many defective persons who, if now discharged, would become a menace, but, if incapable of procreating, might be discharged with safety and become self-supporting with benefit to themselves and to society.” Buck, you see, was “the daughter of a feeble minded mother in the same institution, and the mother of an illegitimate feeble minded child.” “Three generations of imbeciles are enough,” Holmes concluded in the most infamous sentence in the history of American jurisprudence.
Holmes ruled as a liberal. As he explained, the welfare of Miss Buck, who, according to the superintendent of the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-minded, had a mental age of nine, “will be promoted by her sterilization.” After all, now that she could no longer become the parent of another “socially inadequate offspring,” she could be released from the state institution. Although Holmes, good liberal that he was, regretted the necessary unfairness of his decision, constitutional principle demanding he rule narrowly, which meant that he could grant this magnanimous gift only to imbeciles domiciled in Virginia. He sighed, “the law does all that is needed when it does all that it can,” adding that he hoped “the equality aimed at will be more nearly reached” once other state legislatures took advantage of the sanction of the highest court in the land to follow Virginia’s example. They did; in short order, dozens of states passed statutes modeled upon Virginia’s, and the golden age of American eugenics was upon us.
Stupidity, Holmes explained, was a threat to national security. And the state had the power, nay the duty, to respond to national security emergencies. For example, the government sometimes compels its citizens to fight and die in wars. “It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence.”

This piece at The Baffler reminded me of two of the more idiotic pieces I read at aeon.co

The first one was a proposal that if we re-assigned babies to be raised by people of different races and ethnicities than that of the birth parents that racism could be wiped out and that genetic chauvinism should not impede our consideration of what the authors apparently regarded as a rational social policy.

Imagine a world in which all the babies born each day were randomly redistributed among the biological parents. The infant assigned to any given set of parents could be white, black, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, or any combination thereof (and that’s just the US); the baby could be perfectly healthy or grossly deformed. Parents would know only that their child was not their biological child. Let us call this social mixing.

This plan is of course politically impossible, perhaps even repellent. Our goal, however, is to engage the reader in a thought experiment, to examine why it stirs up such uncomfortable feelings.

Now you might think that the first reason to object to such a plan for social mixing is that there's no assurance it would even work and the second reason to object to such a plan for social mixing is that to even implement such a stupid idea requires a functionally totalitarian apparatus.  But, no, as if to confirm a quip someone made about how some ideas are so idiotic only intellectuals can believe in them ...

Is the idea so frightening? Yes it is. It is a frightening thought that your own biological child, the one sitting there now doing her homework, might have gone to an impoverished mother or a drug addict, perhaps have been beaten, perhaps starved. But why, save for genetic chauvinism, do we view with comparative equanimity the everyday reality of other people’s children subject to the same treatment by their own biological mothers?

the superficial connection between colour and culture would be severed. Racism would be wiped out. Racial ghettos would disappear; children of all races would live in all neighbourhoods. Any white child could have black parents and any black child could have white parents. Imagine the US president flanked by his or her black, white, Asian and Hispanic children. Imagine if social mixing had been in effect 100 years ago in Germany, Bosnia, Palestine or the Congo. Racial, religious, and social genocide would not have happened.
Genetic chauvinism lives on very strongly in our culture. Modern fiction and cinema often present adoptees’ searches for biological parents and siblings in a highly positive light. The law in child custody cases is biased towards biological parents over real parents. You might claim that this bias itself is ‘natural’. It is so common as to seem part of our biological makeup. But subjugation of women was also common in primitive human cultures and remains so in many cultures today. Unnatural as it sounds, social mixing promises many advantages. If we are not willing to adopt it, we should consider carefully why. And if naturalness is the key, we should ask ourselves why on this matter, ungoverned nature should trump social cohesion.

So wholesale ignoring the possibility that this kind of social mixing violates the spirit and aim of the Fourth Amendment, and likely necessitate an exemption clause in order to avoid violating the Fourth Amendment  notwithstanding ... .

The superficial connection between color and culture "might" get severed but does anyone really believe for a minute that the conflicts in the Middle East that have spanned millennia were just about skin color?  Even if racism were wiped out slavery would not be, and since a great swath of slavery was socio-economic in nature and established on the basis of class there's no reason to suppose that eliminating racism, if we even grant that social mixing could eliminate that, would eliminate the majority of the most egregious forms of injustice. 

The idea that if social mixing were enforced racial, religious and social genocide would not have happened is so patently idiotic on its face it's hard to understand why any authors would imagine that social mixing would even be plausible.  Wanting to eliminate racism is praiseworthy but it's not praiseworthy if professors can seriously think that their proposed social mixing would do anything other than establish a state that can enforce social mixing.  The idea that a technocratic administrative system could eliminate racism seems too stupid to be believed but there are two authors who proposed it, perhaps in one of the drier forms of satire ever implemented on a website ... because if the proposal were made in earnest it's a stupid one. 

One of my co-workers is Chinese American and he told me that when he's visited China he's discovered that  mainland Chinese are some of the most racist people he's ever met in his life.  Any culture that is sufficiently monolithic or homogenous will be virulently racist.  The paradox, in connection to the aforementioned aeon piece is that the fuel for racism is actually social cohesion.

A way to sum things up about aeon.co in general would be a piece like this one.


Who should hold power: the few or the many? Concentrating power in the hands of a few – in monarchy, dictatorship or oligarchy – tends to result in power for personal benefit at the expense of others. Yet in spreading power among the many – as in a democracy – individual votes no longer matter, and so most voters remain ignorant, biased and misinformed.

We have a dilemma.

Republican, representative democracy tries to split the difference. Checks and balances, judicial reviews, bills of rights and elected representatives are all designed to hold leaders accountable to the people while also constraining the foolishness of the ignorant masses. Overall, these institutions work well: in general, people in democracies have the highest standards of living. But what if we could do better?
Consider an alternative political system called epistocracy. Epistocracies retain the same institutions as representative democracies, including imposing liberal constitutional limits on power, bills of rights, checks and balances, elected representatives and judicial review. But while democracies give every citizen an equal right to vote, epistocracies apportion political power, by law, according to knowledge or competence.

The idea here is not that knowledgeable people deserve to rule – of course they don’t – but that the rest of us deserve not to be subjected to incompetently made political decisions. Political decisions are high stakes, and democracies entrust some of these high-stakes decisions to the ignorant and incompetent. Democracies tend to pass laws and policies that appeal to the median voter, yet the median voter would fail Econ, History, Sociology, and Poli Sci 101. Empirical work generally shows that voters would support different policies if they were better informed. [emphasis added]

Voters tend to mean well, but voting well takes more than a kind heart. It requires tremendous social scientific knowledge: knowledge that most citizens lack. Most voters know nothing, but some know a great deal, and some know less than nothing. The goal of liberal republican epistocracy is to protect against democracy’s downsides, by reducing the power of the least-informed voters, or increasing the power of better-informed ones.

There are many ways of instituting epistocracy, some of which would work better than others. For instance, an epistocracy might deny citizens the franchise unless they can pass a test of basic political knowledge. They might give every citizen one vote, but grant additional votes to citizens who pass certain tests or obtain certain credentials. They might pass all laws through normal democratic means, but then permit bands of experts to veto badly designed legislation. For instance, a board of economic advisors might have the right to veto rent-control laws, just as the Supreme Court can veto laws that violate the Constitution.


Of course, any epistocratic system would face abuse. It’s easy to imagine all the things that might go wrong. But that’s also true of democracy. The more interesting question is which system, warts and all, would work best. In the end, it’s a mistake to picture epistocracy as being the rule of an elite band of technocrats or ‘philosopher kings’. Rather, the idea is: do what democracy does, but better. Democracy and epistocracy both spread power among the many, but epistocracy tries to make sure the informed many are not drowned out by the ignorant or misinformed many.

If academics wonder why there could be even a possible groundswell of loathing and resentment against college professors and instructors as having elitist and essentially anti-democratic convictions aeon.co might be an illuminating slice of a larger pie of pseudo-academic elite think-piecing toward antidemocratic societies.  

Perhaps the most savory irony of contemporary academics who advocate for liberal policies now is that a good chunk of them will imagine that their ideas and ideals are steps beyond medieval notions but ... this would not necessarily be true.  The priests were the academics of the medieval period and at least some priests felt, at the time, that there was a risk of too many people breeding too many babies.

A History of Political Thought: The Middle Ages
Walter Ullman
Penguin Books
first published 1965
 ISBN-10: 0140207783
ISBN-13: 978-0140207781

The continuator of his commentaries on the Politics, his [Thomas Aquinas'] pupil at Paris and later Bishop of Claremont, Peter of Auvergne, struck up quite radical naturalist chords, particularly in connexion with social and economic questions and problems connected with marriage. For instance, he held that, since the State had to be self-sufficient, it was imperative to limit the number of citizens, otherwise poverty would follow. Hence he advocated limitations in the size of families. Aristotle's suggestion of abortion was not endorsed, but in order to avoid over-population he suggested restrictions of procreation between the ages of 37 and 55 with men and 18 to 37 with women, because then fewer children would be born. Beyond these age groups there should not be sexual intercourse with a view to procreation, but simply for the sake of health or some other valid reason.

When American academics advocate for some kind of epistocracy do they know whether or not they aren't just replicating the elitism of priestly academics whose ideas and assumptions, looked at from the remove of ten centuries, seem repressive? 

If American academics wonder why there seems to be such an anti-intellectual streak (as some of them like to call it) the seeds of that anti-intellectual streak might not be animus against the life of the mind but against elitist proposals that the unwashed ignorant masses be denied the franchise because people in academia don't like the idea that people dumber than them could decide the future of a nation-state. 

Fortunately none of the names I've seen published at aeon.co that I can recall have popped up as ever having actual spots from which policy could be influenced.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

courtesy of Box Office Mojo stats, it looks like My Little Pony has trampled mother! in global and domestic box office returns

Total Lifetime Grosses
Domestic: $17,800,004   40.4%
Foreign: $26,304,534   59.6%

Worldwide: $44,104,538 

Total Lifetime Grosses
Domestic: $21,162,241   44.1%
Foreign: $26,799,493   55.9%

Worldwide: $47,961,734 

So it hasn't "trampled" in the sense of a giant difference, just that it's made more box office sales despite coming out two weeks later.

Naturally, the Aronofksy piece is the more respectable high-brow film critic-worthy discussion piece.  If mother! was intended to be a parable about climate change it's turned out to be one that has not inspired an especially big turn out compared to a live-action remake of a decades old cartoon.


So if a film is going to be a parable about climate change what's the incentive of spending about thirty-five million dollars creating such a cinematic parable if people at The New Yorker are alternately going to say that the film could only be such by dint of directorial fiat (Richard Brody) or that the nature of the intended parable suggests a failure to understand the nature of parable itself and that Aronofsky seems to keep coming back to parables where women have to be abused in some way to drive the point home (Alexandra Schwartz).

But if the old art religion has been superceded in the entertainment and publishing industries by something more meta, like an art religion of criticism that is a newer, higher more metacritical art religion; if the meta-art religion is criticism then mother! is a winner because it gave film critics and film school instructors and students something to write about, while a remake of a twenty-year old animated film does not do so in the same way, still less another more recent release that also beat mother in global box office, if by a hoof.

But for the meta-art religion of film criticism we don't have to ask which film is the mother! of us all this year, that would be Beauty and the Beast. At least until, perhaps, another Star Wars topples the queen from the throne, if that actually transpires.  We'll get to find out.

But then, just to take an obstreperous stance this weekend as I'm hoping to show some friends Samurai Jack season 5 this weekend, Adorno once quoted a writer who said there's such a thing as good bad art and bad good art.  There are cartoons that are more substantial in what they have to say about the human condition than live action films that are purportedly higher brow. 

John Halle proposes that Clinton's campaign informally rigged the DNC game to secure the nomination and seems to have done so through leveraging labor leadership, as distinct from actual labor interests

There's no shortage of people who believe that Brazile is hardly clean-handed about things in the wake of her writings about the DNC, Clinton, Sanders and the nomination.  Even close to a year after the announcement, to say nothing of the actual electoral vote, it's tempting for partisans to embrace simple conspiracy theories to explain how and why the person they did or didn't want to get the Oval Office did or didn't get the role. 
What each conspiracy theory has that I find hard to embrace is the idea that a group of informed and actually competent people got together and decided how they would decide the future.  At the risk of invoking the years of research, writing and source archiving I did about the history of the fall of Mars Hill I am reminded constantly of a proverb shared with me by a history teacher--you should never assume a conspiracy when incompetence is an available option.  Partisans for Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill, since I can only assume some of those are still around, might want to believe Mars Hill had its reputation destroyed by hostility from secular/liberal media but, on the whole, the more and more I've dug through the primary source materials available and look at the history of real estate acquisitions and even the history of journalistic coverage associated with real estate and Mars Hill the more and more it seems that Mars Hill couldn't have been taken out by hostile media coverage.  An entire decade of hostile secular/progressive media coverage from 1998 to 2008 did virtually nothing except accelerate the church's meteoric rise within Puget Sound.  On the other hand, steady revelations of graft and sheer incompetence within the leadership culture of Mars Hill did go a long way to damaging its reputation.
Nobody probably wants to really run with the idea that in the 2016 election the least incompetent self-aggrandizing power-hungry egotists with more ambition than scruples managed to win despite still-existing incompetencies but it might be an idea to at least give a few seconds' thought to. 
Now .. on to Halle's actual post, or at least parts of it.  
Brazile’s disclosures immediately reinitiated the discussion of some months ago as to whether the primary was rigged, though now with new urgency.  The issue strikes me as a red herring in that it obscures how the Clinton machine operated to insure a victory. In a literal sense, at least, they did not rig the nomination, rather they exerted their influence. [emphasis added] An example of how they did returns us to Curry’s remarks.   As Curry points out, the major unions immediately endorsed Clinton, this despite her offering them virtually nothing, not to mention having served in an administration which did much worse than nothing by ramming through jobs destroying trade agreements, failing to enforce NLRB decisions and harsh reductions in the public sector workforce. [emphasis added]
Why did they endorse? While it will be hotly denied, the answer likely has to do with quid pro quo arrangements made with union leadership who, in addition to serving in positions within Democratic administrations, were also provided access to Clinton global initiative junkets, seats on corporate and foundation boards, positions at major “progressive” think tanks and other perks provided to respectable and “serious” insiders.  These favors were expected to be returned in the form of an immediate endorsement-dutifully provided, as we know, to the displeasure and disadvantage of rank and file membership which supported Sanders.  Did the Clintons calling in their chips constitute “rigging” of the election?  Again, not in a strict literal sense.  But at a certain point, the distinction becomes merely semantic: it is clear that in essence that’s exactly what it was. [emphasis added]
The predominant left reaction to Brazile’s charges has been to engage in yet another round of ritualistic thrashing of the DP leadership.  But, while eminently deserved,  no one with a basic familiarity with the facts should have regarded them as anything other than servants of the corporate donor class, which is to say, enemies of everything we are trying to accomplish.  On the other hard, the labor unions are still, at least in some circles, seen as allies.  That they could have won the nomination for Sanders but chose not to do so is, as I just mentioned, too bitter a pill for most of us to swallow. [emphasis added]
That Clinton and associated campaigners would be friends with deep pocketed people isn't much of a surprise.  I'm not particularly startled that labor union leadership would throw in with a Clinton because I don't see organized labor leadership as really ultimately being all that pro-labor at all.  It depends on what kind of labor and what kind of market.  I'm reminded of something Jacques Ellul wrote in Propaganda half a century ago, that he believed that as labor unions became more powerful as political entities and more influential they became the less they would actually be interested in helping the labor they were ostensibly representing.  If it turns out labor union leadership simply threw in with Clinton then expecting positive change to come from that sector is probably a misguided hope. 

Earlier this year I saw posters with slogans such as "no more shit jobs" here in Seattle.  There will always be those jobs.  For those of us who have read and reflected on Genesis 3 what Marxists have called the alienation of labor is the very nature of labor.  Creation itself rebels against us and we keep working to subjugate it.  There will always be shit jobs and even those jobs that don't seem to be shit jobs have terrible things about them.  If you work in a field where the goal is to save lives you clean up shit.  Saving lives is cleaning up the shit, oftentimes in fairly literal terms. 

So perhaps the breakthrough is in giving shit jobs dignity.  Whether through some kind of Lutheran doctrine of vocation or through Soviet propaganda praising the common worker, the most revolution we can see for maybe one generation or two is a sacralization of scut work.  Whoever would be greatest must be the servant of all, for instance.  But this would not just be in explicitly giving dignity to the kinds of service that is viewed with contempt if "you" or "I" have to do it, it would be in recognizing that there is a moral obligation on the part of those of us who don't do those sorts of tasks to those who do to express gratitude and love.

Honor thy father and mother, and to put this in crudely pedestrian terms, have regard and gratitude for those parents who literally cleaned up your shit after you dumped it on them.  Does this mean they are sinless?  Of course not, but they changed your diapers.  That counts for something and, after all, you may find yourself changing their diapers one day in return, or you may be changing the diapers of your own children one day, or you are or have been changing the diapers of children in your life now. 

Labor is labor, and if labor leaders spent so much time in the corridors of power that they identified more readily with the power-brokers than the rank and file people doing crap jobs then it would be hard to feel bad for them if their candidate lost.  Clinton and her advocates can keep saying Sanders didn't deserve the nomination and it's possible to even say that it wasn't realistic to expect the DNC machinery to even really give him a chance while also noting that thanks to the way super-delegates contributed to the political process that was one of many reasons we got Trump. 

Halle's proposal is simple enough, the left shouldn't be surprised that the Clintons turned out to be in the pocket of high finance and globalism.  The more unpleasant discovery is that labor union leadership decided to back Clinton when other options were available.  To borrow concepts from other fields, it can be too easy to assume that hard power is how decisions can be rigged when soft power and pedaling influence can be what decides elections, too.  But as scapegoating goes it's been easier for mainstream liberalism to blame the white racists morons without college degrees than to concede that it's not just Republican graft and evil that swung last year's big decision. 

But then after so many years of blogging about Mars Hill I feel like I shouldn't have to say what I'm about to say again, the disaster of American discourse is that we would rather share lessons that exonerate us than to share discoveries that implicate us. 

POSTSCRIPT 11-12-2017

Reminded of something I'd read a while back at Scott Timberg's blog.

They’ve been in retreat in the US for most of my life, but trade unions remain crucial and are important for the creative class, including journalists, just as they have traditionally been for the industrial working class. HERE is my piece for Salon about the pros and cons of unionization.
Oddly, Salon was caught in an ugly union fight while I was there. When I left, more than a year since it began, the instability of the place — constant turnover at both the staff and management level — made it impossible to settle on an agreement.
For those who have read this blog regularly, maybe you remember that Salon re-ran a piece that was originally published (if memory serves) at AlterNet a couple of years back. The piece was about Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll and was so riven with factual inaccuracies in virtually every single paragraph I took a week to document them all and fact-check the errors.  So if Salon turns out to have been a bitter zoo behind the scenes I'm afraid I can't possibly be surprised about that.  
Halle's observations about how labor union leadership look like they sold out the Democratic Party to Clintonian power would seem like a corrective to ST's idea that unions remain crucial.  Crucial to actual workers?  I'm afraid I've never been all that sure about that my whole adult life.  Crucial to endorsing political figures?  Probably.  It's not that I can't fathom Generation X frustration that all the jobs we thought we might be able to do in journalism and arts coverage have evaporated in the last twenty years, or so it seems.  I get that.  I managed to never get any of the jobs Scott Timberg has been bitter about losing so I'll admit it's hard to feel all that bad for the guy. 

at the New York Review of Books Francine Prose writes about "the problem with `problematic'"

Up front, language alert.  People are prone to short Anglo-Saxon derived words when venting frustration about white savior narratives on the internet.
There are certainly problems with books targeting mass and youth audiences in terms of white savior narratives.  It may be that these things just leap out for people whose heritage isn't 100% white, because, for instance, I couldn't not observe a white savior narrative as the core of James Cameron's Avatar whereas friends who had an entirely white background didn't see it and even when they did see it didn't necessarily see it as a problem.
If anything one of the problems is that in an era where minorities seek representation in the Hollywood industry itself, particularly in the strange era in which journalists invoke the Frankfurt school on the one hand while fastidiously ignoring Adorno's condemnation of the culture industry on the other, the paradox is that writers and artists who want to be more involved in the culture industry object to white authors writing what look like white savior narratives in the process of trying to pursue what could be colloquially known as a social justice cause.
Posted September 7, the first reader review of American Heart on Goodreads, a “social-cataloguing website” owned by Amazon, was something of a rant:
fuck your white savior narratives
fuck using marginalized characters as a plot device to teach the white mc how to be a decent person
fuck you for perpetuating the idea that marginalized people need to suffer in order to be worthy of “humanity”
fuck this book and everyone who thought it would be a good fucking idea…
to my Muslim friends, i’m sorry this book and this mindset exists
After receiving more online criticism from readers, not all of whom seemed to have actually read the book, Kirkus removed the star from its American Heart review—a major demotion given that we have been trained from kindergarten to want stars, a reflex reinforced each time we’re invited to rate (with stars) everything from a Lyft ride to a haircut. The Kirkus review was reposted, in a revised and less enthusiastic form: “Sarah Mary’s ignorance is an effective world-building device, but it is problematic that Sadaf is seen only through the white protagonist’s filter.”
The accusation that “society tends to favor privileged voices” is, according to some, not only a political analysis but an economic one. “The fear,” one literary agent told me, “is that if a publisher takes on a book written by a successful white male writer about a disabled Native American lesbian, a real disabled Native American lesbian might have trouble placing a book about the same subject at the same house; the publisher already has one.” What this suggests is that books are being categorized—and judged—less on their literary merits than on the identity of their authors. This is particularly true with young adult fiction, whose readers are presumed to be more readily influenced by what they read. [italics original, emphasis added]
It’s undeniable that the literary voices of marginalized communities have been underrepresented in the publishing world, but the lessons of history warn us about the dangers of censorship. Unless they are written about by members of a marginalized group, the harsh realities experienced by members of that group are dismissed as stereotypical, discouraging writers from every group from describing the world as it is, rather than the world we would like.
The culture of young adult fiction is partly dedicated to helping young people avoid and resist bullying, yet it is being shaped by online posts whose aggressive, even ferocious, tone could itself be described as online bullying. One is reminded of how, under authoritarian regimes, writers have been censored (and persecuted) for referring, in their work, to the sufferings that their rulers would rather not acknowledge.
Almost every kids’ classic worth reading has been censored by some school district. Recently, a Mississippi school board voted to remove Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird from an eighth-grade reading list because, according to the board vice president, “There is some language in the book that makes people uncomfortable.” One could argue that a vital function of literature is to make people uncomfortable—a position unlikely to change the board’s mind. Yet cutting a book from a reading list seems less drastic that removing it from stores.
What’s distressing is the frequency—and the unexamined authority—with which the words “experience” and “lived experience” define who is qualified to write or even to weigh in on a book. If it’s not your “lived experience,” you’re not writing in “your own voice.” It doesn’t suggest much faith in the power of the imagination—our ability to envision what it might be like to belong to another group, another gender, to live in another historical era. To take the argument to its illogical extreme, how can one write a historical novel if one has no “lived experience” of that period? Meanwhile, the fact that the Kirkus reviewer of American Heart was chosen partly because she came from the same community as the novel’s “problematic” character seems not to have mattered when Kirkus caved to the pressure from online community critics.

What may be most notable by its absence (whether journalistic oversight or the nature of the public discourse) is that nobody steps back and says that maybe the whole enterprise of the commercial publishing of fictional narratives itself is a waste of time, money and resources natural and cultivated.  The reader did not go so far as to say "$#^T the publishing industry and everyone who thinks that by publishing a book the world is improved."  No, we don't tend to see that, we tend to see calls for representation, as if the current publishing and media industries would become better if they gave marginalized people voices.  Not that marginalized people shouldn't have a chance to speak about what they've been through ....

but since I'm slogging through Adorno this year the question that keeps coming up for me is why people who would otherwise commit to a progressive cause seem to think that any variant of the publishing industry will have a role other than being the proverbial bad guy.  Writers and artists venting about the injustice of the industry never seem to doubt the legitimacy of the publishing industry so much as complain about the restrictions of capital on it.  Or, to put it in a more harsh light, aspiring writers and artists are more concerned that the empire of the arts isn't giving them more of the spotlight rather than asking whether the empire of the arts itself is the problem.  The problem is preferably that the empire doesn't serve all the aspiring artists rather than that artists who get served by the empire are still serving the empire. 

The culture industry isn't just mass or popular culture, after all, it can also be the entire educational system of the West, too.  College students lamenting that they can't get a break may feel like they're on the receiving end of systemic injustice and predatory lending practices on people who are doing graduate work in the humanities are stuck ... but I still have enough friends who are high school drop outs or never went beyond high school education in formal terms that I can never quite shake the sense that college students and graduates who can wield the word "privilege" in internet debates don't seem to fully grasp the privilege from which they can do so.   I take the left more seriously than I take liberalism for a variety of reasons but that's some other post for some other time if I even feel like writing about that. 
Of the writing of books there is no end and the only question you potentially can't ask of the business of writing books is why people think people should make a living writing books in an era like ours.  This isn't about the writing part, it's about the business part.  Given the range of plagiarism scandals of the last decade; given how consolidated ownership of the means of production (since Marxists are pretty good at hammering that point); is it even a good thing to seek for "representation" in such a centralized industry?  Or, to put it another way, if the traditional art religion is still in place in the arts world is giving a publishing opportunity to a real disabled lesbian Native American, per the example, really better simply on account of intersectional concerns? 
The lament of reverse-racism can be a bromide embraced too quickly by the sorts of conservatives who already want a fight on the internet, but in a way it seems the real problem is that what is expected of novels and poetry these days is not even fiction.  What some people want is for fiction to be imbued with all of the truth-telling capacity expected of journalism and historiography. 

What never seems to be up for discussion is questioning the legitimacy of the publishing industry itself, at least when the context is a question about demographic representation.  The assumption in discussions about whether a white author writing about a disabled lesbian Native American getting published prevents a real disabled lesbian Native American writer from being published may be too pat an example of some of the concerns of intersectionality but since on the internet pat may just be where it's at we'll just run with that. 

Intersectionality may be a new iteration of what in an earlier generation was known as political correctness but with another element to it--and in a way intersectionality raises a necessary point about identity politics.  The necessary point is that merely saying one is black or a woman or Jewish is insufficient as a label because in flesh and blood life we can never be reducible to a single category.  Or, to put it in more practical terms, a Kevin Spacey coming out as gay is no excuse for a person doing what Spacey has been accused of doing. 

The danger of intersectionality in terms of public discourse is that if you have enough ranked categories of oppressed marginal groups under your belt you can use the most abusive rhetorical and intellectual methods in public discourse with a kind of cyber-space shield.  This lets people perpetuate and perpetrate verbal violence with a kind of holiness code or exemption clause.  A more colloquial way of putting things is to say that a double standard gets deployed on the subject of threats and verbal aggression if a person has a high enough core on intersectionality. 

There's also a tendency for liberalism of some vaguely defined sort to be the guiding paradigm.  Sherman Alexie's complaint about fellow American Indians over the last decade or so has been that the average American Indian is more socially conservative than even the most socially conservative white guy. 

It's not that there aren't problems with people in power deciding they get to speak on behalf of the oppressed as if knowing what the oppressed feel or deal with it, those problems always exist.  The problem may be more that people with the  level of literacy to be readers and to engage in symbolic combat on the internet about the politics of intersectionality invoke a status of marginalization that their very literacy and access to internet tools may, at some level, belie.  It's entirely possible to be regarded as part of a marginalized class by one metric while being a power-broker by another.  Spacey is just one recent example.

But another would be the conundrum of Nate Parker, whose film Birth of a Nation was beloved on the festival circuit but which had a deflated premier n part because of allegations of assault had been made against the director and while defendants were exonerated accusations can persist in the public record.  Charles Mudede touched on the matter at The Stranger for those who didn't already follow that situation.  If there's a danger in intersectionality as a new variation of an old civil religion it's that the purity codes offer exemptions from power at a rhetorical level that recent allegations of misconduct and harassment suggest we should not grant.  A person can too easily invoke the righteousness of intersectionality as a cover for abusive behavior.  The abusive behavior may not always or even very often be physical or sexual. To go by the above-cited example from the reader, a lot of the abuse and bigotry is expressed in emphatic and explicit verbal terms. 

Proverbially Pharisaical denunciation has never had to be the domain of explicitly religious people, after all.

Given how many complaints I sometimes see about the decline of journalism why should people who aspire to write aspire to write fiction?  Why not just go for journalism?  Actually there's a pretty simple answer for that, because libel and defamation laws are real, legally enforceable things.  Fiction can be a way to write about the things we see in the world without having to worry that we'll get sued by the subjects we write about, or so one approach to the matter can go.  Even fantasy and anti-realistic art and literature is always reacting to the world as it is and insistently saying something about it.  But then I am slogging through Adorno's Aesthetic Theory this year ...   

and I'd say that for whatever his flaws in history and reasoning Francis Schaeffer wasn't as racist or elitist about black popular music as Adorno comes off as having been.  I have more than a few issues with Francis Schaeffer but the reliability with which pop coverage of the Frankfurt school skates past Adorno's denunciation of black American music is disappointing.  But then the reason Ne Left writers would skate past Adorno wouldn't coincidentally be because Adorno regarded them as being as ultimately totalitarian in their impulses as fascists.

If conservatives were actually more conversant in the Frankfurt School than they usually want to be they might discover that the old right and old left could agree on the problems of the new left at a few small points of intersection.