Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Function of Art, Conservative Edition

World O' Crap's s.z. writes in Tears of a Hack
United States Representative Thaddeus G. McCotter is gunning for the job [of "Conservative Whiner of the Week"], and being a total Hollywood outsider, he brings a certain fresh, loopy charm to the job. In his column "C-List" Casting Call: Will Hollywood Conservatives Come Out to Play?, he steals lines from a Beatles' song to hit on Mia Farrow's teenaged sister, and to invite Hollywood conservatives to drop some acid with him outside the Ashram. It's chock full of wingnutty goodness, but lets skip to his anguished lament for the plight of the tortured conservative, and his impassioned invitation to right wing Hollywood to join him on the cross.
Our camaraderie stems from our shared suffering as conservatives. Conservatism being the negation of ideology, our existence threatens the Left's dogmatic ideologues, who revile, repress and retaliate against us: Congressional Republicans are targeted for political extinction; and Big Hollywood's cloistered conservatives are targeted for professional ostracism.
All that is missing [interjects s.z.] is the Gulag and/or concentration camp reference!

Finally[Congressman McCotter continues], conservatives share a duty to channel empathy into creativity. For example, legislators must create just laws that reconcile the people's need for order and freedom; and artists must create works that reveal the enduring human truths needed to preserve and renew the culture.
Another perfect example of the conservative approach to art. Not only it "MUST" it "reveal enduring human truths," a commandment with which I would be hesitant to agree if only because it IS a commandment, but he baldly states that the purpose of these required revelations is not, as I might think, to express a component of human experience, but "to preserve and renew the culture." Hello, Peggy? Is that you?

First of all, which is it? Is art supposed to "preserve" a culture or "renew" it? Since a conservative's agenda is, by definition, the maintenance of the status quo, I submit that what Rep. McCotter really wants is the "preservation" part, and only adds the "renewal" part because he knows that "preservation," all on its naked lonesome, would give the game away too much.

Even so, if he believed he was being serious about the renewal part, what he'd think of as "renewing" a culture would be an effort to re-institute any part of that culture that was being challenged at any given time. Given that one of the most important functions of art IS to challenge the prevailing culture, I think he's not really talking about art at all. As smarter people than me have pointed out many times before, Rep. McCotter isn't calling for art, he's calling for propaganda.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Romance Fiction, Male and Female

Back in December, Susan of Texas (The Hunting of the Snark), in a post entitled "Let's Read Some Stupid," features (among others) a paragraph from Stephen Spruiell of National Review Online's (NRO) "The Corner." Spruiell opines:
I'm pretty sure there's never been a period in human history when certain people haven't had this particular kind of unrealistic expectation when it comes to love. We typically refer to those people as women, and they also happen to make up a majority of rom-com-watchers. If there's a connection, it's that women enjoy these films because these films show guys acting like women want guys to act, i.e. irresponsible and hopeless at first before their love for the female lead transforms them into stable, romantic (and telepathic) adults. Stephen Spruiell
Susan replied:
I had no idea The Corner let 13-year-olds write for them.
Which was a good line (as usual), but I had to say:
I dunno. I didn't read the post in question, so I don't know what thesis he was hanging on that assertion about women's narrative preferences. But I think that a lot of the appeal of romantic comedy IS very much because of the scenario he outlines. It's essentially the plot of every romance novel ever written: Bad Boy is tamed by the love of a Good Woman. If you're the right woman and you love him enough, you can always bring him to his knees.

Male romances (aka "Westerns") revolve around the opposite notion: that even the love of a Good Woman CAN'T tame a Bad Boy. After he tastes of (doomed) love, he must always ride off into the sunset. Alone.

Of course, in both romance narratives, the Bad Boy is never all that bad after all. In Westerns he's usually just Dramatically Haunted, by a previous love that didn't work out or an incident of violence in which he didn't acquit himself well enough.

The man's flaws in classic Romance are usually excesses of a traditionally "masculine" virtues (too Honorable, Protective or Independent), or his behavior is the result of a mere misunderstanding that can be cleared up in a climactic revelation scene (after much entertaining angst). Romances can therefore be funny, whereas a true Western is always tragic. A man is what a man is, see, and a man has to do what a man has to do -- and that always means he has to Leave.

Noir fiction of the hardboiled detective variety, another "male romance" genre, has essentially the same theme: It Never Works Out With Women, although in noir it's because of HER, and in Westerns it's because of HIM.

I'm not saying these are realistic themes, or contribute positively to the modern American ethos, but I don't think he's wrong to say that women, even today, are more drawn to Tameable Lone Wolf kind of stories and men are more drawn to stories of Lone Wolves Who Can't Be Tamed.

Personally I like both kinds of fiction, but I'd never mistake them for lessons in living.
Susan anwered:
... I believe he was talking about women wanting immature types that they can make into the type of man they want. I agree many women want to tame a bad boy, but I don't thing they want "irresponsible and hopeless" men to trnasform them into "stable, romantic (and telepathic) adults." I think Spruiell is projecting, here.
True. When are conservatives NOT projecting?

For more on women, men and romance fiction, take in "Tom Terrel's" Ten Ways To Be A Lover: A Man Looks at Romance Novels, a guest story on my moribund Why Your Wife Won't Have Sex With You blog (to which this entry is cross-posted).

P.S. Another relevant story over there is Do Women Prefer Bad Boys?

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

More on Televangelists

As promised, here are some comments inspired by the Jim Bakker story on LGM that I posted about yesterday.
[While having to spend a lot of time in a public library] I was frequently tempted by the biggest collection of celebrity bios and autobiographies I have ever seen. Very light reading, you could burn through one in a couple of hours. The absolute best one, the only one I would ever consider reading again, was Tammy Faye's autobiography. There was a recurring pattern as their empire grew: they would bring some preacher friend aboard -- a sweet, simple, gentle man, full of the love of the Lord, etc., and then some time later this same meek little person would be transformed into a scheming, ruthless backstabbing Macchiavellian media hog. The other thing I remember is that when the big collapse came, Jim curled up on the sofa in the fetal position and didn't move. I think they really believed they were doing honest work, poor feckless gumps. There was humor in that book, and goodnature.

I felt a certain fondness for Tammy Faye, after that. But why on earth would anyone feed lima beans to a dog?

Matt Weiner:
Bakker and many other rich Christians who would like to go to heaven managed to convince themselves that the "Eye of the Needle" was a narrow gate to Jerusalem that a camel couldn't pass through without unloading some of its pack, meaning that rich people could get to heaven if they gave up some money to the preacher.
This biblical passage, which later surprised Jim Bakker when he had a chance to really read the Bible in prison (according to his autobiography), consists of the red-letter injunction from Jesus himself that runs (in the original translation) "It is harder for a rich man to enter Heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle." As it turns out, the word for "camel" and "cable" (or "rope") are very similar, and most scholars now agree that the reference to a camel was the result of a mistranslation or copy error. However, it seems clear that even if Jesus was referring to a Jerusalem gate and actual camels, there is nothing in his words that can remotely be construed as referring to taking stuff "off the top" and giving it to preachers.

The "Ponzi theologians'" interpretation of the passage, meant to get them off the hook of their execrable money-grubbing, illustrates how much many "fundamentalists" will twist and turn Scripture to suit their own purposes, "inerrancy" and "literalism" be damned.
I personally liked the Robert Tilton story better if only for how very Oklahoma it all was(I was growing up there at the time). Tilton, for those who don't know the story, was the guy who would take out the cash and the checks that people would send him and then throw the prayer requests away. We aren't talking one or two letters here, more like tons and tons of garbage that he tried to get rid of by throwing them in other people's dumpsters or even off the dam into a lake.

When informed of the massive fraud he was committing (though one has to wonder what to do with prayer requests anyways), Tilton said that he had prayed so hard over them that the ink had entered his body and infected his mind, thus making him commit the dastardly deed.

No...I did not make that up. When I think of the people that still say that Bush is doing an awesome job, I think of the people that send "seed" money to these "churches of prosperity".
What DOES one do with the written version of prayer requests? If I was Tilton, I would have burned them, in the tradition of the "smoke of sacrifices," the odor of which, wafting upward through the floorboards of Heaven, was said to be pleasing to God.
Jim Bakker once made a plea for money, telling his audience that he knew they may be strapped for cash. He specifically singled out widows who may be dependent on their Social Security income and not be able to spare some $ for the PTL Club. He asked these widows to mortgage their homes to get the $ for him. This request alone will get him a long time in hell come the resurrection.
That sounds, as another commenter itimated, more like the housing bubble mortgage brokers and other architects of our current collapse.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

And Speaking of Pharisees.....

davenoon at Lawyers, Guns and Money, continues his series of "Worst American Birthdays" by "celebrating" the advent of televangelist James Orson Bakker,"one of the greatest religious frauds in US history."

Bakker and his first wife, the inimitable Tammy Faye, spent a quarter-century building and then destroying an enormously profitable televised ministry known as the Praise the Lord network and a hilariously weird Christian theme park called Heritage USA. PTL immolated in early 1987 when a confluence of sex and fund raising scandals ruined Bakker's gimmick and eventually earned him a 45-year prison sentence for mail fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy. (The sentence was later voided; after re-sentencing, Bakker served less than five years before receiving parole in 1994.)

Before his magnificent collapse, Bakker and his wife helped define the cultural grotesquery of the 1980s. The keystone of the PTL empire was the Bakkers' variety show, a gibbering circus of musical bathos, inane religious chatter and unselfconscious, hyperbolic weeping from Tammy Faye, whose near-daily fits of ecstasy provided some of the most inspired television of the decade. Tammy Faye wept because Jesus loved her; she wept because Jesus died for her sins; she wept because her beloved dog Chi Chi died from an overdose of lima beans. When God neglected her pleas to raise Chi Chi from the dead, Bakker wept again before announcing to her viewers that Chi Chi was a "naughty little dog" who more or less deserved to die.

Meantime, Tammy Faye's husband Jim preached the gospel of prosperity, a Ponzi theology rooted in the belief that God will reward the faithful with material wealth and financial success -- provided that they first contribute to the material and financial success of their ministers. ...

Heritage USA -- Bakker's $150 million theme park [just south of Charlotte, NC in South Carolina] -- drew millions of visitors each year, including many who had paid $1000 each for "Lifetime Partnerships" that earned them several days of free lodging in the park's 500-room luxury hotel. By 1987, PTL had sold 165,000 of these memberships, claiming that they would be used to fund the construction of new time-share units. Most of those earnings, however -- along with seemingly everything the organization siphoned from its middling faithful -- simply disappeared into a hole. By the end, PTL was earning $4.2 million each month and spending nearly twice that amount. At several points, PTL's operating expenses were paid from employee retirement accounts. Lacking any meaningful accounting processes, PTL became a crematory for the donations offered up by the Bakkers' unwitting constituents.

On March 18, 1987, Bakker resigned from PTL amid rumors that he had paid more than $100,000 in hush money to Jessica Hahn, a former church secretary Bakker had slept with -- or raped, on Hahn's account -- in 1980. In his resignation statement, Bakker declared that he had been "wickedly manipulated by treacherous former friends" who "conspired to betray me into a sexual encounter" with Hahn.

Now that is a compelling enough cautionary tale all on its own, but there was more fun to be had in the LGM comments thread attached to the post. More on that tomorrow.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Sanford/Palin 2012?

A great post on Kos about my benighted governor (who's going to be running for prez in 2012):

As 77,000 unemployed citizens of his state watched in despair, Governor Sanford trumpeted tired free market mythology to defend subverting his state's efforts to pay unemployment compensation. His refusal to request federal funds to help laid off South Carolina workers was unprecedented by any Governor and had even drawn sharp rebukes from fellow Republicans:
"It's absolutely unheard of, it's insane, for a governor of any state not to request those funds," State Senator Hugh K. Leatherman, a Republican who is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said last week. "I can't believe anybody would be this heartless, and create such a heartless act on these people."
Adding to the mounting evidence that Governor Sanford has no soul, he further flaunted his disdain for workers by politically targeting the very agency tasked with assisting South Carolina's unemployed:
For weeks, Mr. Sanford, newly elected as head of the Republican Governors Association and known for being a fierce free-market foe of government spending, stuck to his stand, questioning the probity of the South Carolina Employment Security Commission and demanding a new audit of the agency.
Of course, it was all theater. He knew the legislature would "force" him to request the funds. But it will make a great story for his 2012 campaign.

As I noted at Kos, the guy is cynicism personified. He's just as plausible and phony as Mitt Romney, but with more brains and no icky religious problem.

He'll be a powerhouse. Especially because I'm sure he's going to be running on how Obama broke the budget, with the unspoken subtext that the budget went out of control because of the demands of ---shhhh!--- BLACK PEOPLE.

That will play like gangbusters here, and if Obama can't get the economy back on track fast enough, it'll probably play elsewhere.

People just love the "low taxes = more money for ME!" line, especially when the negative effects of waterboarding the government will not cause any consequences that affect ME!

My friend Terry remarked to me privately:
I can't help but think there are probably a lot of people who were/are "fierce free-market foe(s) of government spending", who now want their unemployment checks.
Ya think? But Sanford's not thinking of getting re-elected here in SC. He's term limited in 2010. He's thinking of bigger and better things.

The 2012 campaign begins in January 2011. Gotta schmooze a shitload of donors and muckety-mucks to even get started.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Great Moments in Internet Commentary

On a TBogg thread about Red State having kittens over the Washington Post hiring Greg Sargent and claiming that the WP would never hire someone straight from rightwing Blogistan, conveniently (or stupidly*) forgetting the infamous Ben Domenech (a.k.a. "Box Turtle Ben").

Captphealy sez:
I suspect Greater Wingnuttia has a massive case of "Phantom Limb Syndrome", as most of them appear to be laboring under the impression that they still have dicks to swing.
NealDeesit replies:
Still have? Their mistaken belief is that they ever had anything to swing. These morons consistently confuse their "being huge dicks" with "having huge dicks."
*As TBogg notes, "We have almost reached the point where picking on [Red State] is like heckling the kids at the Special Olympics."

Saturday, January 03, 2009

The Original Moonbat

Ahab at If I Ran the Zoo comments on Peggy Noonan, erstwhile Reagan speechwriter, predicting that reading books will become The Next Big Thing.

Peggy sez:

...It is a relatively inexpensive (libraries, Kindle, Amazon), peaceful and enriching activity. And we're about to enter an age of greater quiet. More people will be home, not traveling as much to business meetings or rushing out to the new jobsite. A lot of adults are going to be more in search of guidance and inspiration. The past quarter century we've had other diversions, often expensive ones—movies, DVDs, Xboxes. Books will fit the quieter future.
Ahab, quite rightly, snorts at that.
Peg's politics have provided us with expensive diversions too, of course. But somehow she neglects to mention Iran-Contra, impeachment, stolen elections, stupid wars, drowned cities, wrecked economies, etc., etc., etc. Our coming "age of greater quiet" is really just another in this series. And likewise, for what purpose does Peggy suppose people might now seek "guidance and inspiration" but to extricate themselves from the devastation that is the culmination of her politics?
My own comment on the quote goes to the idiotic, airy-fairy, typically Noonanesque mind-set behind it.
The reason Peggy always comes across as such a space pilot is because she insists on romanticizing and elevating her every stray thought and experience into vanguards of the New Zeitgeist.

I mean, really. Because SHE is enjoying the quiet pleasures of reading right now, everyone else not only should but will be doing the same in the days to come. And so she must come up with her typically airy-fairy reasons why this will happen.

It's disturbing that she seems to be looking FORWARD to that "quieter" future in which "people will be home, not traveling as much to business meetings or rushing out to the new jobsite" because...and notice that she is not so indelicate as to actually say these words out loud...they'll be OUT OF WORK. She prefers, as always, to euphemize and tiptoe around the darkness and suffering involved in what she's selling, because -- and this is what really gets her going -- there will be so many happy spiritual effects of all that poverty and joblessness. And Peggy's all about the spiritual renewal, y'know. Elian was saved by the dolphins (who inexplicably failed to save his Mom) to demonstrate the superiority of the American Way of Life and Renew Our National Purpose. Or something.

Seriously, though, it is so typical of her to be determined to see the silver lining, the holy messages, the New Jerusalem in everything, including (or perhaps especially) Republican-generated disasters and controversies.

And then, of course, there's the fact that she is so often wrong. Observe:
The past quarter century we've had other diversions, often expensive ones—movies, DVDs, Xboxes. Books will fit the quieter future.
Does she really think that angry, distressed people will somehow, for some reason that has been tragically unknown to Borders and Barnes&Noble for a couple of decades, prefer to turn to books rather than play video games or watch movies? Will poverty and fear for the future make people better readers, more willing to pick up a book rather than the remote? Please.

Sure, she's absolutely right that books are QUIETER than X-Box escapism, but that will only make the sobs from the next room harder to ignore.

And another thing that only struck me as I was posting this: Peggy considers an Amazon Kindle (~$370.00 -- when they're in stock) "relatively inexpensive"? 

Welcome to how the other 10 percent lives.

Friday, January 02, 2009

The Very Definition of a Modern Major Philistine

Here is a comment I made on a post regarding Jonah Goldberg (of Liberal Fascism fame notoriety) at Susan of Texas's The Hunting of the Snark.

Goldberg is quoted as saying:
[Television s]eries such as Dexter, House, and countless others have elevated egomania, self-absorption, and narcissism to admirable character traits.
I responded:
What. a. dip.

What is it Roy Edroso calls it? Kulturkampf? Right wing philistines somehow believing that the main purpose of art is the promotion of "values."

Worse, they have such a juvenile appreciation of literature and drama that they believe the main character in any fiction must always be the "hero," and it stands to reason (in their eyes) that the writer "admires" all the hero's characteristics. It's like they never heard of the concept of the "anti-hero," where, if there's any conscious promoting going on, it's the writer's profound belief in things CONTRARY to the main character's (professed) values.

The thing about House is that he is in a constant struggle against softer, more "dangerous" emotions and beliefs. His strongest characterological drive is toward Truth at all costs, and the way this otherwise "admirable" quality plays out against his arrogant dismissal of other aspects of Being Human is what drives most of the drama. It's fucking brilliant. And dimwits like Jonah can't begin to grasp it because they think the narrative is CELEBRATING House's approach to life.

No, it's not even merely's some other word, some other worse adjective that I can't even think of, maybe because what Jonah is is SO awful we don't actually have coherent words to describe it.

So maybe we'll have to resort to ART.
Susan replied by offering a quotation from J.D. Salinger:
Maybe Philistine is a good word for his type. I looked it up and wikipedia has a J.D. Salinger quote: "A person deprived, for life, of any understanding or taste for the main current of poetry that flows through things, all things."

And it also says, [The Phoenicians'] boutique culture could not withstand the Assyrian and later Babylonian expansions into Canaan, however – after which they disappeared as a cohesive cultural group."

The insulated world they hope to live in is truly a little hothouse culture. They won't be able to survive without the backing of a wealthy elite, because they certainly can't survive on their merits. Who wants propaganda, which is predictable by definition, when they could have originality and surprise, which only true art can achieve?

Who wants propaganda, which is predictable by definition, when they could have originality and surprise, which only true art can achieve?
I answered,
Who indeed? Actually, it's clear that there is an audience for predictable fiction (at least), and it seems to consist of fearful people who HATE to be surprised.

Conservatives, by definition.