Praise for Gibson Film, Quandary for Oscar Voters
New York Times, 2006-12-05

[An excerpt; emphasis is added.]

With some early reviews lauding the audacity and innovation
of Mel Gibson’s bloody Mayan epic, “Apocalypto” [NYT review, IMDB],
Hollywood’s tight-knit community of Oscar voters
may find itself facing a difficult dilemma in the coming weeks:
Will they consider the film for an Academy Award?

Since Mr. Gibson’s drunken tirade against Jews last summer,
many people in Hollywood swore — both publicly and privately —
that they would not work with him again or see his movies.


The rising tide of generally positive, if qualified, reviews
poses a problem for Hollywood insiders,
many of whom would prefer to ignore Mr. Gibson entirely,
despite his formal apology and a trip to rehab.

Powerful players like Amy Pascal, co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment,
and Ari Emanuel, of the Endeavor talent agency
have publicly disavowed Mr. Gibson,
with Mr. Emanuel writing online last summer that

“people in the entertainment community, whether Jew or gentile,
need to demonstrate that they understand how much is at stake in this
professionally shunning Mel Gibson
and refusing to work with him.”

Other studio chiefs have said
they would not work with Mr. Gibson in the future
but would not say so for attribution
because they didn’t want to endanger their future business dealings.
At least one influential publicist
has declined to work on an “Apocalypto” Oscar campaign
because of objections to Mr. Gibson’s views,
but would not say so publicly for similar reasons.


Murray Weissman ... said some voters would not see the film on principle.

“There is still a lot of resentment out there among the Academy members,
certainly the Jewish group of them, over the incident,” he said.
“There are a lot of people who are very unforgiving.
I have run into some who say they will not see any more Mel Gibson movies.”


Not By Politics Alone
Conservatives must initiate their own
long march through the institutions of culture.

By Claes G. Ryn
The American Conservative, 2007-01-15

[Paragraph numbers and emphasis are added.]

That leading politicians wield great power nobody will deny.
What is not so well understood is how limited that power is.
Over time, especially,

politicians are superceded by forces largely beyond their control.
They must yield to
those who mold the fundamental ideas and sensibilities of a people,
those who affect their hopes and fears, direct their attention,
and select and define the issues of the day.

Society’s long-term evolution is profoundly affected by
those who shape the mind and imagination of a people.
They set the tone in the arts, the entertainment industry,
the publishing houses, the electronic media, the press, and academia.
When these are pulling in the same direction,
not even a landslide political victor can overcome them.
For real and lasting change to be possible,
first the culture has to change.

In the following discussion,
American and Western civilization will be described, for brevity’s sake,
as torn between
  • traditionalists
    those who stress humanity’s dependence
    on the achievements of previous generations—

  • radicals
    those who turn their backs on history
    and want to realize visions
    bearing no resemblance to actual human experience.
That this is a simplified picture of our predicament hardly needs saying.
Human beings do not fall into neat categories.
Also, traditionalists, for example,
could not hope to preserve the ancient heritage that they claim to cherish
without restating and developing it in new circumstances.
Indeed, at a time of profound dislocation,
attempts to preserve and protect traditional insights and patterns of life may,
to those who embrace dominant beliefs and practices,
look like radical departures.

The power that may be ultimately decisive in setting society’s direction
is found in what will strike many as an unlikely place,
in the arts and humanities broadly understood:
in the arts—
from dramatists, novelists, and movie-makers to composers and painters—
and in academic disciplines—
from philosophy, history, and English to politics and psychology.
In these fields,
trendsetters have long been chipping away
at the moral and spiritual core
of what can loosely be called traditional Western civilization.
Hence the basic orientation of our society.
Putatively conservative political victories here and there
have made little difference to the fundamental trends of Western society.

To take up first the role of intellectuals,
consider the late 1960s and early ’70s
when the New Left and the counterculture attacked
not only the military-industrial complex
but all traditional civilization.
This rebellion could trace its roots at least as far back as Rousseau.
These were the radical children of indulgent liberal parents
who had already done their part to undermine traditional beliefs
by rejecting moral universality
and making abstract, “scientisticrationality the arbiter of truth.
The new campus radicalism soon spread into the larger society,
partly through sympathetic coverage in the media.

Because the turbulence on the campuses and elsewhere subsided,
many wanted to believe that radicalism was petering out.
The opposite was true.
The campus radicals and their less radical-looking sympathizers
did not disappear.
Many of them found permanent, congenial homes
in the colleges and universities.
They stayed—as faculty [Exhibits A and B].
Since their days on the ramparts they have,
whether as unreconstructed or somewhat chastened radicals,
taught millions of students.
They or their students are now
senior tenured professors, department chairmen,
deans, provosts, and presidents.
They sit on curriculum and personnel committees.
They select new faculty.
They influence the criteria for promotion and tenure.
They pass judgment on
which books will be published or rejected by university presses,
which articles will be published or rejected by academic journals.
They have profoundly affected standards of scholarship and truth
and even define intelligence.
By designing SAT, LSAT, GRE, and other tests, they bias admissions.

People do not inquire deeply into
what their children or grandchildren will be taught in college.
They are more concerned about the relative prestige of a school.
And that ranking, too, is determined by the same trendsetters.

Perhaps the most telling sign of the state of academia is that
even those most widely reputed to be the defenders of traditional beliefs
are also helping to subvert them.
The Straussians, for instance,
have long sought to persuade unsuspecting traditionalists
that philosophy is incompatible with convention and “the ancestral.”
To celebrate the American founding, says Harry Jaffa,
is to “celebrate revolution.”
America, he asserts, is
the “greatest attempt at innovation that human history had recorded.”

The professoriate teach all future professors but also
all future high-school, secondary, and elementary schoolteachers.
Those entering academia are already acclimated because
their high-school teachers tend to mimic the professoriate who taught them.
In this way alone,
professors in the humanities reach deeply into the popular consciousness.
The biases of schoolteachers are all the more effectively inculcated
because children are exposed to them outside of school as well.
Television programs, movies, and music confirm and embellish
the ideological and emotional slant that students absorb during the school day.

Of the old campus radicals who did not stay in academia,
a large number gravitated toward communications and entertainment.
As TV producers, directors, and editors, they decide
what is news and how selected stories should be covered.
As scriptwriters, they decide
what behaviors to admire and detest,
what to take seriously and what to dismiss,
what to laugh and not to laugh at.
As editors at publishing houses, they decide
what subjects are of interest and which books deserve to see print.
As critics, they decree
what is art and what is not.
As songwriters, they set society’s musical beat.

Not all people in the communications, entertainment, and knowledge industries
are drawn from the old campus radicalism,
but each year for decades whole armies of new graduates,
educated by a largely radical professoriate,
have invaded these institutions and society in general.
The business world and the professions are no exceptions.

Over time, the professoriate has evolved ideas
even more radical than those of the 1960s and ’70s.
Yet many contend that in the 1980s
conservative values finally triumphed in America
when Ronald Reagan won two presidential elections in landslides.
Now the ascendant neoconservatives tell Americans that
their society is in good shape and getting better.
They have assigned to the United States
the ambitious task of bestowing its enlightened values on the entire world,
starting with the Middle East.

To refute the triumph-of-conservatism thesis
does not even require going outside of practical politics and economics.
During this era of alleged triumph,
the federal government expanded by leaps and bounds,
while state and local autonomy contracted.
The 10th Amendment is a dead letter.
Laws that extend government’s control over society
continue to pour forth from Washington,
and Americans are being asked to become
the pliant wards of a national-security superstate.
Traditional constitutional restraints are barely operating.

In the six years of the current administration alone,
the national debt has doubled and the federal budget has grown by 25 percent.
The deficits in the federal budget and in the country’s balance of payments
are enormous.

And these are merely the political and economic symptoms of
larger moral-spiritual, intellectual, and cultural developments.
Have those who keep talking about the triumph of conservatism
no sense of the decline
of education at every level,
of private and public morality,
of family, and
of churches?

In the movies, on television, in the press,
in music, on videos, in novels, and elsewhere,

attitudes and behaviors are portrayed as normal or admirable
that would have dismayed virtually everyone
just a generation or two ago.
The institutions of America’s national culture tolerate or welcome
almost any denigration of traditional civilization.

They teach those who resist to make their peace with inevitable change.
The indefensible can always be defended with reference to
freedom of expression or tolerance.
Those who resent the radical bullying are afraid to speak out
because they know
the awesome power of the ruling forces
to ridicule, intimidate, and retaliate.

Not even the most skilful politicians could reverse
this sustained assault on what remains of traditional Western society,
because politicians can only marginally change
the imaginative and intellectual momentum
that fostered the radicalism in the first place.
Over time,

Washington’s power
is dwarfed by
the power of the elites
in the arts, communications, entertainment, and publishing—
the industry revolving around the Hollywood-New York axis—and
the academic circles with which these elites are closely intertwined—
what may be called the Boston-Berkeley axis.

Deep down, each society lives by a predominant vision of human existence:
what life is like and what it should be.
All of us have deeply rooted intuitions and ideas that together constitute
our basic outlook on reality, our notion of its dangers and opportunities.
We approach the world from within a particular sensibility
that gives existence its pace and coloration.
In our most private recesses,
we form hopes for what life might one day become for us [and for our children].
We live on and for such more or less realistic visions.
Though this inner self
varies with the circumstances and personalities of individuals,
societies evolve a predominant state of mind and imagination.
Individuals are connected by an emotional and intellectual substratum
that gives them similar aspirations.
Whatever this predominant pattern of sensibility and belief,
it sets the direction of social life in general
and of public debate and practical politics in particular.
Politicians who violate this mindset risk their political lives.

Enormous power lies with those who shape the mind and the imagination
and make others see life through their eyes.
Deep in our personalities are the marks left
by the imaginative and intellectual masterminds
who create the tenor of an age.

most people are not exposed to high culture and don’t even want to be.
But highbrow culture eventually reaches them
in diluted, filtered-down, lowbrow form.
The sensibility of seminal works of art and thought
are transmitted into the general consciousness
through popular movies and novels, soap operas, and the imagery of advertising.

When artists really capture our imagination,
they make us see the world as they do.
What they present as contemptible we, too, begin to despise.
What they convey as admirable and intriguing we want to emulate.
D.H. Lawrence wrote, “we live by what we thrill to.”
Those who enter deeply into our imaginations
make us “thrill” to certain goals,
make us want to realize them.
They help shape our innermost values and our perception of reality.

Contemporary Western society exhibits deep tensions between
what remains of traditional civilization
and the spreading counter-culture,
which by now has its own traditions.
These are tensions not just among people but within particular persons
who harbor incompatible dreams
and have neurotically divided minds and imaginations.
In a crunch,
the anti-traditional elites can play upon and mobilize radical prejudices
that have gained a foothold within many a self-described conservative.

Conservative intellectuals and activists often have
an open or thinly veiled contempt for the arts and humanities.
The disdain is only partly due to their thinking
that this is where the Left hangs out.
Many professed conservatives denigrate the humanities primarily because
they believe that they have little practical importance,
have little to do with “the real world.”
To turn society right, you need to win more elections.
They have difficulty understanding
why purported political victories are repeatedly nullified,
though the values and beliefs of the American people
continue to slide in a radical direction.

The greater the conservative neglect of the arts and humanities,
the greater the grip of the anti-traditional forces.
Conservatives have excused their inattention by telling themselves that
the radical dominance of the humanities does not really matter in the long run.
Who cares about flaky professors, writers, composers, poets, and artists?
What matters is politics and economics.
These “realists” do not understand that
increasingly politicians and businessmen,
as well as the general population,
resonate with the sentiments of these “flakes.”
Inattention to and disinterest in the humanities
reveal a failure to understand what really makes human beings tick.
They are themselves signs of precipitous cultural decline.


Traditional civilization is threatened with extinction because
pleasing but destructive illusions
have become part of
the way in which most people view the world and their own lives.

The hold on society of those who created and fed these illusions
cannot be broken mainly through practical politics.

What is most needed is a reorientation of mind and imagination.
The great illusions of our age must be exposed for what they are
so that they will start to lose their appeal.
This can be done only through art and thought of a different quality.

While the so-called Right worried about so-called practical matters,
the Left took control of activities
that could help refashion society’s imagination.
The Left understood the power of directing the mind.
Those who wished to dismantle traditional civilization
thought and acted strategically and reaped extraordinary advantages.
Having managed to dominate the artistic and intellectual life of Western society,
they have had little difficulty
keeping supposedly conservative political forces on the defensive,
even when the latter ostensibly controlled the government.
The countercultural forces have kept the Western world at war with itself.

Many conservatives seem to believe that
artists and intellectuals are naturally and almost inevitably on the Left.
If that were so,
all efforts to renew traditional civilization would be condemned to failure.
But there is nothing inevitable about
the radical dominance of the mind and the imagination;
these trends since the Enlightenment
are in some respects an historical aberration.
The radical mindset was created over many years by committed people.
People of equal commitment and creativity
could dismantle it over many years
by unmasking and replacing it with a deeper, more realistic view of life.
Radicalism advanced first and foremost
by means of a march through the culture.
A renewal of American and Western traditions, if one is still possible,
could be effected only by another march through the culture.
Such a development would require a surge of inspiration
springing not from the political and economic periphery
but from the moral-spiritual depths.

Claes G. Ryn is professor of politics at Catholic University
and chairman of the National Humanities Institute.
He is the author of
America the Virtuous: The Crisis of Democracy and the Quest for Empire


Hollywood's New Censors
by John Pilger
Antiwar.com, 2009-02-19

[The last two paragraphs.]

During the cold war, Hollywood’s state propaganda was unabashed.
The classic 1957 dance movie, Silk Stockings,
was an anti-Soviet diatribe
interrupted by the fabulous footwork of Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire.
These days, there are two types of censorship.
The first is censorship by introspective dross.
Betraying its long tradition of producing gems,
escapist Hollywood is consumed by the corporate formula:
just make ‘em long and asinine and hope the hype will pay off.
Ricky Gervais is his clever comic self in Ghost Town,
while around him stale, formulaic characters sentimentalize the humor to death.

These are extraordinary times.
Vicious colonial wars and political, economic and environmental corruption
cry out for a place on the big screen.
Yet, try to name one recent film that has dealt with these,
honestly and powerfully, let alone satirically.
Censorship by omission is virulent.
We need another Wall Street,
another Last Hurrah,
another Dr. Strangelove.
The partisans who tunnel out of their prison in Gaza,
bringing in food, clothes, medicines and weapons
with which to defend themselves,
are no less heroic than the celluloid-honored POWs and partisans of the 1940s.
They and the rest of us deserve the respect of the greatest popular medium.


National Portrait Gallery bows to censors,
withdraws Wojnarowicz video on gay love

By Blake Gopnik
Washington Post, 2010-12-01

Norman Rockwell would get the boot, too, if I believed in pulling everything that I'm offended by: I can't stand the view of America that he presents, which I feel insults a huge number of us non-mainstream folks.