Monday, September 6, 2010

Rise in American Racism Nothing New

Op-Ed Columnist
America’s History of Fear
Published: September 4, 2010

A radio interviewer asked me the other day if I thought bigotry was the only reason why someone might oppose the Islamic center in Lower Manhattan. No, I don’t. Most of the opponents aren’t bigots but well-meaning worriers — and during earlier waves of intolerance in American history, it was just the same.

Screeds against Catholics from the 19th century sounded just like the invective today against the Not-at-Ground-Zero Mosque. The starting point isn’t hatred but fear: an alarm among patriots that newcomers don’t share their values, don’t believe in democracy, and may harm innocent Americans.

Followers of these movements against Irish, Germans, Italians, Chinese and other immigrants were mostly decent, well-meaning people trying to protect their country. But they were manipulated by demagogues playing upon their fears — the 19th- and 20th-century equivalents of Glenn Beck.

Most Americans stayed on the sidelines during these spasms of bigotry, and only a small number of hoodlums killed or tormented Catholics, Mormons or others. But the assaults were possible because so many middle-of-the-road Americans were ambivalent.

Read more at NYT
C. Wright Mills:

"The idea that the millionaire finds nothing but a sad, empty place at the top of this society; the idea that the rich do not know what to do with their money; the idea that the successful become filled up with futility, and that those born successful are poor and little as well as rich - the idea, in short, of the disconsolateness of the rich - is, in the main, merely a way by which those who are not rich reconcile themselves to the fact. Wealth in America is directly gratifying and directly leads to many further gratifications. To be truly rich is to possess the means of realizing in big ways one's little whims and fantasies and sicknesses...."

George Clooney and The American

Against my better judgment I went to a movie today. The listings were bleak: Inception, Avatar: Special Edition, Dinner for Schmucks, Eat, Pray, Love, Machete and The American. I was with my mom so almost everything was out and Julia Roberts is on my list, so no way. If you for some weird reason want to see this movie you should really check yourself and then stop reading because I will ruin it for you right now.
I was optimistic - I checked Rotten Tomatoes and it was at 61% - a little low but reviewers seemed to be in love with the cinematography and it's set mostly in the mountains of Italy, that seems like it should have made up for it. Nope. While intellectually I know Italy is beautiful, the way the scenes were shot made it look to me like Clooney was glumly striding through a back-lot in Hollywood, cobble-stones streets and shots of long twisting roads notwithstanding.
You really don't need to know the plot of the movie - you can look it up if you're interested. I was so mesmerized by the presentation of cinematic cliches I could barely look away. A hit man on his last job - really! A prostitute (30 years younger than said hit-man) with a heart of gold - you don't say! A double-cross by an unscrupulous superior - shocking! I felt like the director or producers maybe forgot that the people who go to see movies have maybe seen a movie or two before. Is subverting the evil hit man trope really a super rebellious act at this point? How many freaking hit men have been treated sympathetically in the movies in the last twenty years? You can play this game in the comments if you like. And hookers with hearts of gold? Who fall in love with 50 year olds? Actually, they missed a chance to do something interesting and have her be playing him for a green card or something. The priest who randomly befriends him speaks in Catholic Moral cliche the whole time, only to reveal that he isn't perfect because he fathered a bastard. This is revealed during a seriously clunky scene where the two walk through a churchyard and observe that many of the town's bastards are fathered there.
Clooney's attempts to look deep/profound/brooding throughout this, and really all the other scenes, end up just looking blank, like he's distracted by inner thoughts about his financial portfolio. I'm sure they were attempting spare and elegant but they ended up with boring and ridiculous. Like, most of the movie eschews the usual music effects to signal mood and tension. Okay, that's an artistic choice I can live with, music effects are way too overplayed anyway. Except they chose to use some really generic suspense-y "ooh, there's a gun in her purse" music during some of the scenes that couldn't even have been meant to be the pinnacle of suspense because they were obviously just setting up for the ending.
I'm not a big fan of George Clooney so maybe I missed the appeal of having ten minutes of montage sprinkled throughout the movie for Clooney to be working out wearing only wool trousers. Again, I can see they were trying to build an atmosphere of tension harking to prison cell-like workouts and convey the characters confinement but that only works if there is energy crackling in the scene! It's been done a million times, it shouldn't be difficult.
Clooney's "Mr. Butterfly" (he has a tattoo. Yeah.) is shown reading a book on butterflies once. He falls asleep over it. Later, a client pretends to lounge at a fake picnic which is just a front for a weapons test. A butterfly lands on her dress. He identifies it instantly as an endangered species. They watch it (FOREVER) as it flutters away. Guess what? It's a metaphor for him. I know - how could you ever have anticipated that! They make this point excruciatingly clear in the final scene as he dies in the lamest and most done to death way - the butterfly flies up towards the trees and slow fade to black. What. The Fuck. Ever.
It's all been done a million times - I don't ever need to see a conflicted hitman, an idealistic prostitute, or a moral priest with skeletons in his bastard closet. It's lazy and derivative and the Italian countryside for some reason looked like Kamloops. Nobody needs that.

Ladies Nights aren't sexist to men; Court of Appeals rejects Manhattan lawyer's claim

The Manhattan lawyer who thinks the big problem with singles clubs is that women pay less to get in got the big brush off in court yesterday.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals rejected claims by self-proclaimed "anti-feminist lawyer" Roy Den Hollander that letting women past the velvet rope for free or half price on "Ladies Nights" violates the Constitution.

In the last week I have noticed so many places where men complain that equality for women makes them less equal, so therefore fighting for female equality is sexist. It makes my brains leak out my ears.