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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Will Ferrell’s Despicable ‘Alzheimer’s Comedy’

Variety announced this week that comedian Will Ferrell will star as Ronald Reagan in a movie described as an “hilarious political satire” about the former President’s onset of Alzheimer’s. Welcome to the lowest depths of contemporary comedy.
Screenwriter Mike Rosolio has penned a script that is apparently so popular in Hollywood that it was voted to the 2015 Black List of Hollywood’s best unproduced screenplays. Here is the logline for Reagan: “The story begins at the start of the ex-president’s second term when he falls into dementia and an ambitious intern is tasked with convincing the commander in chief that he is an actor playing the president in a movie.”
I have not read the script, so if the movie proves me wrong I will happily apologize. But it is hard to imagine that comedian Will Ferrell, noted for his denigrating impressions of George W. Bush and his progressive activism at the comedy site “Funny or Die,” will portray Reagan as anything other than buffoonish.
A live table reading of the screenplay featuring Lena Dunham as Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan and John Cho as the intern protagonist was held back in March (Ferrell was not attached to the project at the time). Showbiz website TheWrap reports that the reading “was very well-received.” Of course it was, because frankly, the Hollywood left finds the notion of depicting the former actor Reagan as an addled Norma Desmond in the White House to be side-splittingly funny.
A darkly funny satire is one thing (see, for example, Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, starring the brilliant Peter Sellers; for a good satire about an American President that everyone can enjoy, try another Sellers film, Being There), but no matter who the victim is, the idea of an “Alzheimer’s comedy” (that’s actually how TheWrap described it) is beyond tasteless. Let’s be honest, though: the only reason Hollywood finds the concept acceptable is that it targets a revered conservative icon.
The filmmakers surely knew that the film’s very concept would outrage at least half the country. As a conservative myself who believes that Ronald Reagan was our greatest President in my lifetime, I’m not whining about the movie simply because it ridicules a sacred cow of mine; I’m complaining because it is vile to ridicule the man on the basis of his affliction. If Barack Obama were suffering from Alzheimer’s, I would be just as disapproving of a movie about that (although we all know such a movie would never even be considered in left-leaning Hollywood).
Furthermore, the movie will alienate not just conservatives but anyone whose life has been touched by the disease, as well as anyone who simply has a standard of decency, because, politics aside, an Alzheimer’s victim is no more appropriate a central character for comedy than an AIDS victim. This movie will bomb, so one has to assume that the Reagan filmmakers green-lighted this travesty as a perverse sort of virtue-signaling to others of their political stripe in Hollywood.
Comedy once was used to bring people together. Nothing unites and uplifts people like laughter. Comedians in my youth recognized this and aimed to entertain a broad audience. Today, comedy tragically (pun intended) has become politicized and divisive – sometimes grotesquely and viciously so, as in the case of the Reagan movie. Giving offense seems to be the preferred intent of many comics today, but since young audiences now are so straightjacketed by political correctness that they take offense at almost anything, comedians hone in on the only target still culturally acceptable to ridicule: conservatives. Comics like Sarah Silverman, Bill Maher, and Will Ferrell go out of their way to offend and alienate half the population instead of finding humor in the themes of our common humanity.
Political humor is a legitimate and even vital form of social commentary. Any president’s policies are fair game. Screenwriter Rosolio could have chosen to focus on Reagan’s policies and make a movie even conservatives could enjoy. But linking those policies to a terrifying and heartbreaking disorder that ultimately (in conjunction with pneumonia) killed the ex-President, and that still ravages minds and bodies and families today, is a bridge too far.
As a society, we must voluntarily pull back from a bottomless pit of tastelessness. We can protect free speech but still hold ourselves accountable to standards and boundaries. The Reagan filmmakers have the right to make their movie, and we have the right to turn our backs on it. 
Ronald Reagan’s daughter Patti Davis witnessed her father’s suffering and has since gone on to run a support group for those affected by Alzheimer’s. On her website, Davis penned a devastating open letter to Will Ferrell in which she asked him how he intended to explain to the victims of Alzheimer’s and their families “how this disease is suitable material for a comedy.” Perhaps, she suggests, to prepare for his role, “you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have — I didn’t find anything comedic there.”

UPDATE: Ferrell's manager is now saying that his client had merely been considering Reagan as one of many potential projects and will not produce and star in it as Variety had announced. Hopefully the kind of pushback he received for his involvement with this movie will result in the other filmmakers rethinking it as well.
From Acculturated, 4/29/16

Monday, April 25, 2016

Back to the Ethic

The collapse of the West is accelerating. The secular, leftist, multiculturalist elites have subverted Europe so successfully that the clash of civilizations is ending not with a bang, but with a whimper. The continent’s leaders have imported a violent, virulently anti-Western horde in the form of mass male Muslim migration; a rape culture and terrorist mayhem are becoming the new normal; and the best self-defense the Europeans can muster is ragtag bands of vigilantes. Here in America the cultural decay is less dramatic but gathering momentum as the radical left’s half-century war on American exceptionalism takes its toll.
As the West commits slow-motion suicide, and fundamentalist Islam advances, the questions arise: what can we do to recover our cultural self-confidence? How can we restore the vigor and greatness of Western civilization? How do we revive the unique values of our culture and push back against the barbarians at (and within) the gate?
A new book from Canadian publisher Mantua Books addresses these urgent concerns: Back to the Ethic: Reclaiming Western Values, by Diane Weber Bederman. Bederman is a multi-faith endorsed, hospital-trained chaplain who contributes regularly to CanadaFreePress and the Times of Israel, as well as maintaining her own blog.
Back to the Ethic is both a personal memoir and a broader cultural prescription. From the author’s own death-defying struggle with illness and depression to her meditations on a secularized culture that itself is mortally ill, the book stresses our need to return to the Judeo-Christian ethical monotheism that is at the root of Western civilization’s success.
Bederman begins by simply stating what I noted at the outset of this review – that “our belief systems are under attack.” Those belief systems, she writes, derive from our “foundational story,” the Bible. “The Hebrew Bible, filled with these teachings, the Gospels, and the New Testament make up the backbone of the Judeo-Christian ethic as practiced today in the Western world.”
Ethical monotheism, the 3500-year-old value system that began with Moses and the Israelites wandering in the desert, spread outward from that humble beginning to transform the earth. “And the world’s greatest transformation,” claims Bederman, “has been the knowledge that we humans are individually accountable for our actions.” It taught us that “we each have intrinsic value – we matter because we exist.”
That belief in the ethical God of the Christians and Jews “counterbalances egoism and the idolization of another human being.”  Its emphasis on individualism has “freed us from the belief that we had no control over our destiny, that we were mere pieces in the games of capricious gods.” And yet, because it also teaches that we are also our brother’s keeper, the Bible has paradoxically led to a compassionate culture that rose above the narrow tribal loyalties of the past.
Ethical monotheism, set on a Biblical foundation of justice, “colors every aspect of Western culture, including the basic principles of our social, political, and judicial systems.” It is based on the recognition “that we are imperfect creatures, and it provides the path to forgiveness, redemption, and hopefulness, through ritual, symbol, tradition, and prayer.” The belief in a single god is a rejection of moral and cultural relativism. “Moral relativism lacks the universal principles and absolutes that are needed to guide one’s behavior.”
Winston Churchill once wrote that the Bible has given us a “system of ethics which, even if it were entirely separated from the supernatural, would be incomparably the most precious possession of mankind, worth in fact the fruits of all other wisdom and learning put together.” But we are losing our connection to those ethical rules, and unfortunately, Bederman says, now “the ideologies of secularism, agnosticism, atheism, and political correctness have been elevated to the status of Champions of Objective Truth that will somehow protect us from intolerance, war, and all the other human evils that these interest groups wrongly blame on every religion.”
Those ideologies do not, for Bederman, offer a cogent intellectual or moral alternative to the Bible stories that for thousands of years were part of our collective consciousness in the West. We once read them “for the values considered vital to all citizens of all races, colors, creeds, and religions living in this Western culture.” Those stories, however, are no longer shared. Students today are as tragically unfamiliar with them as they are the classics of the Western canon. The stories in the Bible “teach us the prerequisites for the establishment of democracy” and “how to become moral and ethical human beings,” Bederman writes. They “provide the path to personal liberation and a nourished soul as well as the infrastructure upon which to build an ethical, compassionate, free, and hopeful society.”
In addition to losing our connection to the Biblical roots of our ethics, we are “losing our sense of the sacred” as well, “the sacredness of family, friends, and community.” As with regaining our moral footing, restoring that sense of the sacred lies in reconnecting intellectually and spiritually with the Bible. Bederman writes:
Maintaining Western culture requires that we continue to teach the ethics and values of the Bible. We must teach this ethic as a firewall, a bulwark against cultures and religions that are stuck in the past, that fear change and free will, or that promote extreme submission.
In Back to the Ethic, Diane Weber Bederman has written a deeply thoughtful, deeply personal, and deeply spiritual work which urges us to understand that the future of Western civilization lies in its monotheistic origins, and that we can flourish again both personally and culturally by recommitting to the wisdom and values of the Bible. “[W]e need a shared morality that protects and promotes freedom, free will, individuality, and care for the community,” she asserts. “If not the ethics and values of the God of the Bible, what shared morality will it be?”
From FrontPage Mag, 4/24/16

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Are Fathers Becoming Less Manly?

Last week I took all three of my little girls into a supermarket, where another man noticed me pushing a cart around with two kids in it and wearing a third one on my chest in a baby harness. “Superdad!” he called out, with a thumbs-up. I was rather proud of that since being the World’s Best Father is a major life goal of mine. Then a woman saw me and marveled, “Wow, Dad doing the shopping and the babysitting!” While she certainly didn’t intend that as a jab at my manhood, I felt a twinge of defensiveness at the implication that I was doing what used to be disparaged as “women’s work.”
Fathers and mothers through the ages have generally settled into traditionally different roles in the raising of children – and, for biological and cultural reasons, that is as it should be. But as The New York Times’ Frank Bruni pondered in an op-ed last week, fatherhood has changed over recent generations. We are moving beyond the emotionally distant patriarch of an earlier time (who, like the male-bonding sexists of Mad Men, relegated all the childrearing to the mother) to a new era of the unabashedly caring, hands-on dad. The new fatherhood is “less hidebound, with more elastic definitions of masculinity.” Bruni called his piece “Building a Better Father,” but does being a better father mean that a man necessarily becomes less masculine in the process?
Despite this evolution of fatherhood, the cultural assumption still tends to be that when dads trespass in the mother’s domain, it’s emasculating. Cafemom.com, for example, recently gushed that doting father-of-two Prince William “is totally in the running for being Mr. Mom.” No man wants to be thought of as Mr. Mom.
Bruni, 51, remembers his childhood as a time when there was an impenetrable wall of separation between the roles of mothers and fathers, who expressed affection differently as well. “A mother’s love was supposedly automatic, unconditional,” Bruni wrote. “A father’s love was earned. Mothers nurtured, tending to tears. Fathers judged, prompting them.”
That was my experience too. The mothers of my parents’ generation were the homemakers; the fathers were the financial providers, and they considered that to be the full extent of their paternal responsibility. My dad, God rest his soul, took virtually no part in raising me and my brothers apart from throwing the football with us on Sundays.
By contrast, Bruni notes a Pew Research Center survey which states that men today spend almost three times the number of hours a week with their children as they did half a century ago – and still feel conflicted about not devoting more. He also refers to a new book, Love That Boy by journalist Ron Fournier, who is Bruni’s age. One of the themes of the book is fatherhood “in the here and now.” Fournier lays bare his fatherly feelings and failings in a way that would have been unthinkable in men of his (and my) fathers’ generation. I never witnessed my father wrestling with any fatherly shortcomings. I never saw him cry.
But today, as the proudest father in human history, I have become one of what Bruni calls the new “doters and gushers.” Friends I have bored recently at parties will attest to this. I had lunch the other day with a more sympathetic friend whose two daughters are the same age as my youngest ones. We gushed about our kids and talked about how fatherhood changes a man’s life (for the better, we agreed).
My friend lamented that working long hours for his family’s future means he can’t spend as much time with them as he’d like. This reminded me of Frank Bruni’s prominent examples of fathers today who put family before career: baseball player Adam LaRoche, for example, who walked away from the Chicago White Sox and a $13 million salary because a team exec told him that his son could no longer accompany him to daily practice. Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan declared that he would not sacrifice time with his kids for his colleagues.
Is this evolution, this doting and gushing, an indication that today’s fathers are less manly than yesterday’s Mad Men? Of course not. Masculinity should be gauged by a man’s commitment to virtues, not by a pointless tradition of emotional unavailability or a fear of appearing maternal.
Courage and emotional strength are manly virtues, however, so it doesn’t help for a man to be so in touch with his emotions that he becomes quivering jelly when his family needs him to be a rock. But it is crucial that fathers teach their sons and daughters by example that a real man, a good father, is unashamed to be emotionally present in their lives and is a full parenting partner of the mother – not as Mr. Mom, but as Superdad.
From Acculturated, 4/18/16

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Rembrandt’s Avatar and the Virtues of Creativity

Almost 350 years after the master artist’s death, a new Rembrandt painting has been unveiled in Amsterdam, and it’s creating quite a stir – because the painter this time was a group of art historians, software developers, scientists, engineers and data analysts, and their brush and canvas were an extensive database and a 3D printer.
The brainchild of Amsterdam-based ad agency J. Walter Thompson for its client ING Bank, “The Next Rembrandt” was an 18-month project that sought to answer the question, “Can the great master be brought back to create one more painting?” For this challenge, rather than attempt to raise the dead, the group undertook a remarkable scientific process to create a new painting based on a meticulous examination of Rembrandt’s style.
First the group studied the entire collection of Rembrandt’s work (over 300 paintings), breaking them down pixel by pixel through high-res 3D scans and digital files that utilized “deep learning algorithms to maximize resolution and quality.” Then, after a close demographic study of the subjects of Rembrandt’s works, the team settled on a representative subject: a portrait of a Caucasian male with facial hair, between the ages of thirty and forty, dressed in black with a white collar and a hat, gaze turned to the right.
The team designed a software system that identified and classified the most typical geometric patterns used by Rembrandt to paint human features. It reproduced the style to generate new facial features according to Rembrandt’s proportions. Data about the painter’s use of light was mined to add authentic shadows onto each feature.
To recreate the texture of a Rembrandt, the group created a height map using algorithms based on brushstroke patterns and layers of paint. That information was then run through a 3D printer that output thirteen layers of paint-based UV ink to mimic Rembrandt’s texture. The result is a portrait of a 17th century man that even an expert probably could not distinguish from the real thing.
But as groundbreaking as the technology is, it did not really create anything even though the painting is “new.” The technology simply imitated the original artist’s style to an extraordinarily precise degree, like an infallible master forger. That’s no small thing – it’s an impressive feat, no question, and there may be other important applications. But it is ultimately an imitation, not a creation.
Creation is the skillful manifestation of an artist’s vision. Sometimes it is wholly original; more often it is a synthesis of other creations that still produces something new. The “Next Rembrandt” painting produced by a 3D printer is not an original creation or a synthesis; it is at bottom a mathematical exercise. With all due respect to the team of technicians involved, they are not Rembrandt. No one is.
I’m reminded of a college art class I took in which my photography-obsessed fellow students simply could not, or would not, acknowledge my argument that there was a vast difference in the artistic skills necessary for painting and photography. We were comparing the sunlight created by Dutch painter Vermeer in “Young Woman with a Water Pitcher” to the sunlight streaming upon Mt. Williamson in a photo by the American nature photographer Ansel Adams (who at the time was as celebrated for his environmental activism as his art). I argued that there was simply no comparison between the technique that enabled Vermeer to create the illusion of sunlight ex nihilo on a blank canvas, and the actual sunlight merely captured by Adams with his camera.
This is not to disparage Adams’ artistic eye. But those students – and the professor too, who was an amateur photographer himself – refused to see Adams as an artist of lesser skill, even though any one of us in that classroom could have snapped the same photo under similar conditions with the same camera, while not one of us could have reproduced the Vermeer sunlight with a brush and blank canvas. The world-changing technology behind the camera is ingenious, but in the end a camera can only capture an image, not create it. That image can be manipulated afterward, of course, but the camera can only reproduce what already exists – at the mere click of the shutter button.
As for Vermeer’s genius: French novelist Marcel Proust was so struck by it that he created an art critic in Remembrance of Things Past who literally dies after experiencing the aesthetic power of a tiny patch of sunlit roof in Vermeer’s View of Delft. It is difficult to imagine that Proust would be so profoundly affected by the sunlit mountainside in a photo Ansel Adams snapped.
To answer the “Next Rembrandt” website’s question about whether the great Dutch artist could be brought back to create one more painting, the answer, sadly, is no. Technology may be a brilliant apprentice, but Rembrandt is still the master.
From Acculturated, 4/12/16

Monday, April 4, 2016

West Coast Retreat

I'm excited to say I'll be interviewing Mark "Oz" Geist, one of the Benghazi heroes and co-writers of 13 Hours, at an event this Saturday night at the David Horowitz Freedom Center's West Coast Retreat.


Then the next morning author/pundit/screenwriter Michael Walsh (The Devil's Pleasure Palace) and I will be a two-man panel discussing the culture war.

Dear Kim Kardashian, Topless Selfies Are Not Liberating You

Emily Ratajkowski – of “Blurred Lines” music video fame – and Kim Kardashian – of, well, fame fame – posed together last week for a dual topless selfie that blew up the internet. “We are more than just our bodies,” Ratajkowski captioned the photo, “but that doesn’t mean we have to be shamed for them or our sexuality.” In other words, two young women who launched their careers by sexualizing themselves are tired of being either criticized for it or reduced to sex objects, so they defiantly sexualized themselves again to make that point.
Kim and Emily (Kimily?) have had each other’s (usually bare) back lately in terms of warding off body-shaming and criticism for their compulsive nudity. Emily came to Kim’s defense recently after the latter took heat for getting naked again on Instagram. Emily wrote Kim a supportive note saying, “It's so important that we let women express their sexuality and share their bodies however they choose.” This empowered Kim, who followed up with another nude selfie captioned, “#liberated.”
Some critics, feminists among them, aren’t buying the women’s claims that they are feminists fighting to liberate female sexuality. Those critics reasonably suspect that Kimily are exploiting that excuse and capitalizing on the notoriety. But if sincere, the duo may believe they’re liberating themselves through nudity, but they’re actually digging themselves deeper into the hole they made through excessive nudity in the first place.
Kim Kardashian was introduced to the world through her BFF Paris Hilton, who was the Kim Kardashian of her day. Then Kim eclipsed her friend’s renown by appearing in a sex tape that some claim was shrewdly orchestrated by her own momager, Kris Jenner, who understood the potential of exploiting Kim’s sexuality. Kim has since gone on to become arguably the world’s most famous woman, largely through flaunting her iconic curves and sometimes posing nude.
Emily Ratajkowski first blew up large by cavorting fully naked in the music video for Robin Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines,” a gig she got after Thicke saw her topless on the cover of an erotica mag. That video shot her to the top of the sexiest women list of every men’s magazine. She has since continued to pose topless for magazine covers. In an attempt to move on to more respectable gigs, she secured a small but prominent role alongside Ben Affleck in Gone Girl – in which she seduced Affleck and went topless.
In response to the criticism, Ratajkowski told InStyle, “The implication is that to be sexual is to be trashy because being sexy means playing into men's desires. Why does the implication have to be that sex is a thing men get to take from women and women give up?” But female sexuality is not considered trashy – it’s acting trashy that is considered trashy. She seems to be missing the point that when she puts her sexuality on public display at the drop of a bra, then she is giving it up to every man who looks, and she is courting a trashy reputation. If she doesn’t want that, she needs to keep her sexuality more private.
Especially as a man, my opinion on the topic is easily dismissed as sexist, “body-shaming,” and repressive. “It’s my body, I can do whatever I want with it” is the feminist motto today. But I’m not telling Kimily what to do with their bodies (I’m actually perfectly happy for them to share their sexuality). I’m telling them what they can expect if they persist in getting near-naked for the world. They can expect to continue to be seen as little more than boobs (literally and figuratively) and ass.
“To me, ‘sexy’ is a kind of beauty, a kind of self-expression, one that is to be celebrated, one that is wonderfully female,” Ratajkowski wrote in an essay for Lena Dunham’s website. That’s true – but if she, Kardashian, and others like them truly want to be celebrated for anything besides sexy self-expression, if they want the world to respect them for their other qualities, then a little modesty is in order. When even Miley Cyrus calls you “tacky,” it’s time to rein it in a bit.
This is not just a criticism of women; if a male celeb perpetually presented himself provocatively, occasionally posing for bottomless selfies, he would be considered trashy too, if not perverse. Yes, our media and pop culture relentlessly and shamelessly sexualize young women – the younger the better, tragically – but the way to counter that is not to push the envelope of it while pretending that you’re breaking down cultural barriers about nudity. The way to counter it is to remind our culture something that we all once accepted: that it is possible to be drop-dead sexy without also being trashy.
And as role models, what is the message Kimily are sending to young girls who idolize their beauty and success? Those girls are absorbing the lesson that that Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous is within reach if they too are willing to bare all and/or leak a sex tape. They’re learning that breasts can get them immeasurably further than brains or character.
Sorry Kimily and feminists (Kiminists?), you can’t have it both ways. Of course a woman should have the right to share her body however she chooses – but choices have consequences, and she can’t hypersexualize herself and then complain about the public getting the wrong idea about her. It is incredibly naïve to believe that a beautiful young woman can share topless photos of herself (no matter how artistic or tasteful) with the world, and not have men (and women too, for that matter) feed like vampires off her sexuality.
Should it be that way? Perhaps not, but that’s the way it is; it is human nature, which hasn’t changed in thousands of years, and Kim Kardashian and Emily Ratajkowski aren’t going to pave the way for a cultural paradigm shift through topless selfies. They’re only going to be ogled.
From Acculturated, 4/4/16

The Core Values of a Gentleman

The Gentleman’s Journal, a men’s style magazine, declares on its website that “we are on a mission to preserve the dying breed,” by which they mean the Gentleman. Good for the magazine’s editors for promoting gentlemanly values. Unfortunately, they seem unclear on how to convey those values.
Last week The Gentleman’s Journal posted an article online titled, “The Core Values of Being a 21st Century Gentleman,” which listed 20 “definitive rules” for the 21st-century Gentleman (the word is capitalized throughout their article, almost like a royal title, and for consistency’s sake it will be here too). Now, as a fashion magazine, GJ is understandably more concerned with style and appearance than ethics and shouldn’t be expected to delve much deeper than the surface of the topic. But it’s misleading to use the phrases “core values” and “definitive rules” because, like much of what you find on men’s style sites that emphasize gentlemanly behavior, these rules don’t go much beyond simple etiquette and barely touch on values at all.
“A Gentleman leaves a mark on the world,” the article begins. This is true, albeit vague. What sort of mark? It is possible to leave a grand, even historic mark on the world without necessarily being a Gentleman. But every Gentleman, even one of no notable worldly achievements, will still have a lasting impact on those around him through his character, even if that impact is limited only to his immediate circle of friends, family, coworkers, and strangers with whom he interacts and impresses.
The article continues: “He is remembered for all the right reasons.” This too is true but again, vague. It sounds good but its meaning is difficult to pin down. What exactly are “the right reasons”? Those could be different things to different people. That’s where the “core values” come into play, and this is where the article gets things muddled.
Among the “definitive rules” GJ lists are what used to be considered common courtesies. For example, a Gentleman always RSVPs. He offers a woman his seat and opens a door. He offers a woman his coat if she is cold and always walks her home. He never lies to a woman (except to surprise her) or makes her cry (except tears of joy), and he never gossips or boasts about his intimacy with her. Third wave feminists would find all of this behavior demeaning and sexist, but as vocal and influential as they are, they are in the minority.
Some other rules touch on self-presentation and self-reliance: a Gentleman presents himself well and gives a firm handshake, for example. He knows how to dance a little and how to cook a meal. A few rules go off the rails entirely and either have nothing to do with being a Gentleman per se (“a Gentleman knows that anything worth having is worth working hard for”) or are simply incorrect (“a Gentleman never judges”).
The point is not that Gentleman’s Journal gets all these rules wrong, but that they aren’t actually values. They are actions that may be manifestations of values but they are not the values themselves, which aren’t mentioned, and that’s where the article disappoints. Chivalry – and some today consider that an archaic concept but that’s really what we’re talking about when we talk about gentlemanly behavior – is more than manners and etiquette. It is a value system from which such rules of behavior must emanate.
What then are the core values of chivalry, of a Gentleman? There is a long and complex history behind this question, and the answers could be elaborated upon at great length, but in essence, they are these, in no particular order:
Service – A commitment to serve others. It includes coming to the defense of the defenseless, male or female, who for whatever reason cannot defend themselves.
Honesty – Although this value is unnamed in the article, Gentleman’s Journal correctly touches on this: “A Gentleman means what he says, and says what he means.”
Courage – The Gentleman is “everywhere and always the champion of the Right and the Good against Injustice and Evil,” as a scholar of chivalry once wrote, and this requires courage.
Honor – Acting according to a standard of integrity and moral responsibility.
Courtesy – Respectful and generous behavior, especially toward women.
Self-reliance – A Gentleman should know how to take care of himself as well as others.
Humility – Again, GJ does not use the word but comes close here: “A Gentleman knows the difference between confidence and arrogance.”
Self-discipline – A Gentleman masters his animal impulses, or he is quite simply not a man, much less a Gentleman.
These classic, core values apply to a Gentlemen from any century, not only the 21st as the GJ article states, although they may seem in especially short supply today. Such gentlemen may be, as the Gentleman’s Journal editors say, “a dying breed,” but they are “proof that chivalry is not dead.”
From Acculturated, 4/1/16

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Introducing Michael Ramirez

I've had the honor of introducing many fascinating figures at David Horowitz Freedom Center​ events, and at noon on March 29th I'll be introducing another one: political cartoonist Michael Ramirez at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills.

Check it out if you'll be in Southern California that day.

Leftist Heads Explode Over ‘Anti-Muslim’ Terrorism Thriller

The great majority of movie reviewers lean far left politically, so when they sneeringly dismiss a new Hollywood action thriller as “terror exploitation,” “racist, “jingoistic,” “terror porn,” “outrageously propagandistic,” “anti-Muslim xenophobia” and “the perfect movie for Donald Trump’s America,” then you can take that as a strong recommendation for getting to the cinema.
The Gerard Butler action vehicle London Has Fallen opened recently and reviewers are panning it as brutal, cheesy, implausible, and clichéd. Apparently those reviewers are unfamiliar with the genre or feel it is beneath them, because it is generally the nature of action thrillers to be brutal, cheesy, implausible, and clichéd. Moviegoers aren’t drawn to action thrillers for their slice-of-life realism or cinematic aesthetics; they want a two-hour dose of escapist adrenalin, an action-packed, over-the-top fun ride, and on that score London Has Fallen satisfies. The audience I saw it with on opening day applauded at the end.
In this followup to last year’s terrorism thriller Olympus Has Fallen, Butler plays Secret Service agent Mike Banning, who almost single-handedly disrupts a plot, conceived by a Pakistani terror mastermind, to execute the American President on live television. In the process Banning lays waste in various ways to practically an entire battalion of terrorists. The movie is an uncomplicated guilty pleasure with the added bonus of providing the audience with a jihadist-killing catharsis – in other words, just the sort of flick to inspire patriots and raise the hackles of Progressive reviewers everywhere.
The clickbait site Uproxx, for example, declared the movie “unbelievably racist,” although the reviewer’s sole evidence for that is a scene in which agent Banning tells a terrorist to go “back to F**k-headistan or wherever it is you’re from.” That’s not racism; it’s not even so-called Islamophobia. It’s just Banning’s contempt for America-hating terrorists and the shariah cesspools that produce them. But leave it to the multicultural left to cry racism and leap to the defense of evil jihadists.
London Has Fallen draws a line,” the reviewer complains, “and that line is between ‘us’ and ‘them.’” So it should, because there is a line between us – the good guys – and Islamic terrorists – the bad guys – but the left can’t bring itself to make that distinction. Instead, leftists are repulsed by any movie that depicts a clear moral line, unless it’s America, Christianity, and/or capitalism on the other side of it.
The Uproxx reviewer went on to sneer about this being “the perfect movie for Trump’s America” because it unashamedly revels in American power and in the deaths of terrorists, the leader of whom happens to be Muslim (never mind that the left would revel in the deaths of Donald Trump and his supporters). That comment says everything about the left’s allegiance to multiculturalism, their ingrained anti-Americanism, and their smug moral superiority over the red state Americans they perceive to be provincial bigots.
The reviewer at the Hollywood industry rag Variety pulled out all the left’s predictable arsenal of dismissive insults, calling the movie “effortlessly racist” and complaining of its “familiar Islamophobia” and “reactionary fear-mongering.” Islam, as all reasonable Americans know full well, is not a race, so there’s no racism, particularly since the majority of Special Agent Banning’s victims appear to be white. And how is it Islamophobia or fear-mongering if Muslim terrorists are actually trying to kill you in the real world? Just like the left calls 1950s anti-Communist investigations “witch hunts,” it now insists on denying that Islamic terrorism is a real-world threat.
A reviewer at Flick Filosopher completely lost his mind over London Has Fallen. He summarized it as “a Nuremberg rally for 21st-century America. Pure terror porn: racist, jingoistic, thoroughly obnoxious. Donald Trump voters will love it” (again with the jab at Trump supporters). The reviewer actually refers to “swarthy brown terrorists” in the movie, even though, again, most of the terrorists Banning dispatches to Hades seem to be white. The reviewer also sniffs at the “fear-mongered audience” who will be “hungry for blood” after this flick – suggesting that “Donald Trump voters” will leave the theater eager to carry out that violent anti-Muslim backlash which the left has been predicting since 9/11/2001.
The New York Post’s Lou Lumenick called the movie “racist” and “anti-Muslim xenophobia” – without adducing a single instance of racism or xenophobia in the film. I don’t know Lumenick’s politics, but for the left, any Hollywood movie in which a Muslim is depicted as the bad guy must automatically be deemed racist and anti-Muslim, even if the movie also features a good Muslim character, because any criticism of Islam is not allowed. Remember, the future must not belong to those who slander the Prophet of Islam.
“It’s about us winning,” Gerard Butler said of the film. “It’s about what happens when the shit hits the fan, and who stands up to face the challenge. It’s based on heroism and the good guys kicking ass.” Yes, and American heroes kicking ass is anathema to the left. American Sniper, 13 Hours, Lone Survivor, Zero Dark Thirty, Act of Valor, Red Dawn, London Has Fallen – all recent movies about American heroes versus foreign enemies, and all derided by reviewers as racist, jingoistic, and xenophobic.
Leftist reviewers don’t respect the action thriller genre itself for a number of reasons. First, they don’t like guns, which they believe only the government should possess. Second, as I mentioned, their world view rejects moral distinctions between good guys and bad guys unless the latter are social justice targets like greedy white businessmen. Hollywood doles out Oscars to movies with social justice themes; action thrillers in which American heroes deliver bloody justice to evil foreigners don’t make that cut. And third, action thrillers always end on an upbeat note, and reviewers who have been trained to worship the cinematic nihilism of pretentious European auteurs consider happy endings to be a simpleminded, contemptibly American characteristic.
When I saw London Has Fallen, among the twenty minutes of trailers prior to the feature was one promoting an upcoming George Clooney drama called Money Monster. In it, the liberal-activist-moonlighting-as-an-actor stars as the host of an investment advice show. He’s taken hostage on-the-air by an angry, working class young investor whose life savings have been wiped out by white Wall Street fraudsters – the only bad guys Hollywood enthusiastically demonizes. Clooney and the movie will be praised by reviewers for bravely addressing social justice issues like inequality.
But if you want to see an American hero kicking ass, skip Clooney, ignore the reviewers, and see London Has Fallen.
From FrontPage Mag, 3/21/16

‘The Producers,’ the Swastika, and the Tyranny of Feelings

I found it encouraging to hear that students at Tappan Zee High School in Orangetown, New York recently chose to put on Mel Brooks’ hilarious satire The Producers as a school play. An excellent, bold choice. If you are tragically unfamiliar with it, the comedy centers on two theater producers who stage an intentional flop of a musical – the outrageously tasteless “Springtime for Hitler” – allowing them to bilk investors and flee the country. But their best-laid plans go awry when the play becomes a hit.
School authorities have hamstrung the students, however, by decreeing that the play must be devoid of Nazi swastikas, a move that would undermine the satire. Why? For the same reason practically any action is taken in schools these days: some people were offended, including South Orangetown Superintendent Bob Pritchard. “There is no context in a public high school where a swastika is appropriate,” he declared.
Really? Not even in history class? Is he suggesting that, rather than educate students about the symbol and its historical significance, it should simply be banished from their awareness altogether? What if, as the New York Post wondered, the Tappan Zee kids had wanted to stage The Sound of Music or Schindler’s List? Would either of those dramas be as impactful without the oppressive emblem of Nazism looming over the characters?
“I considered it to be an obscenity like any obscenity,” Pritchard sniffed. But the swastika is not like any obscenity. It isn’t even an obscenity in itself, though it represents an obscene ideology. It is a cultural symbol with specific historic meaning, and rather than shield students from it out of a misplaced sense of moral indignation, students should be confronted by it and educated about it. The alternative is possibly to be condemned to repeat the sins committed beneath its image.
B.J. Greco, who handles media for the school district, explained that four parents also had complained about the swastika’s use in the play. “If you come in out of context, you can misinterpret,” he attempted to justify. “The swastika is an icon. It causes different feelings in different people.”
So what? Different feelings can be triggered in different people by just about anything. That is no justification for sending the potentially offending object or image down the Orwellian memory hole, which the “trigger warnings” proliferating on college campuses now are designed ultimately to accomplish. A culture which prioritizes feelings, which are by definition subjective, above reality and reason will soon find itself detached from both and doomed to implode.
As an aside: the comic genius Mel Brooks, who won a Best Screenplay Oscar for The Producers, wouldn’t be able to get a job in entertainment today. Can you imagine the horror with which today’s studios would greet the outrageous racial satire of Brooks’ Blazing Saddles? Our culture has reached a point at which it is impossible to have a sane discussion about race, much less enjoy a politically incorrect comedy about it. Far from helping to close America’s racial divide, the enforced sensitivity imposed upon us by political correctness has exacerbated that divide to an almost unbridgeable degree.
The swastika controversy is reminiscent of the hysteria that swept the country last year over the Confederate flag in the wake of the massacre of nine black Charleston churchgoers by white supremacist Dylann Roof. National anger focused like a laser on what many perceive to be the symbol of American white supremacism, the Confederate flag, which Roof displayed in photos prior to the shooting. Anger became hysteria as the lighthearted 1980s show The Dukes of Hazzard was pulled from the TV Land cable network schedule because its prominently featured Dodge Charger, nicknamed “The General,” sported the flag on its hood. Merchandising featuring the car was even pulled from store shelves. Again, the rather smug impulse was to erase the symbol’s existence altogether as a sign of our moral condemnation.
In related news, Harvard Law School recently caved to student demands that the institution’s longstanding logo be changed to remove an image tied to slavery – because students find slavery offensive and “triggering.”
Yes, of course – Nazism, racism, and slavery are offensive, but this virtue-signaling frenzy to purge our culture of historical symbols deemed offensive, no matter what the context, is not the way to come to terms with those symbols, with the realities they represent, or with the past. If anything, banning them under any circumstances only empowers those symbols and weakens our understanding of them and of ourselves.
Erasing from our cultural consciousness symbols that represent such ugly historical realities is little different from the Islamic State destroying artistic and architectural vestiges of non-Islamic culture because they are offensive to religious sensibilities. It will lead to a cultural and historical amnesia – not to mention further capitulation to this tyranny of feelings whenever someone decides to be offended.

UPDATE: According to Adweek, the news media have distorted the story of superintendent Pritchard banning swastikas from the play. Apparently the swastikas in question were displayed at the school two weeks prior to premiere with no explanation, and Pritchard had them removed for that reason.  The play itself went on uncensored.
As for Mr. Pritchard’s comment that there is no context in which a swastika in high school is appropriate: Atlanta PR exec Scott Merritt forwarded to me an email from Pritchard in which he explains that it was poor wording and did not reflect his full position: “Displaying historical artifacts for the purposes of education in public schools (and universities) should be the norm rather than the exception and I am therefore opposed to censorship,” wrote Pritchard.
I wish to apologize to Mr. Pritchard – a West Point student of military history and self-described Mel Brooks fan – for running with the media’s mischaracterization without confirming the whole story.
From Acculturated, 3/18/16

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Later, Kirk Cameron: Christian Films Come Into Their Own

Faith-based movies may be all the rage now, but in recent years they unfortunately have been divided into two distinct, unsatisfying camps. On the one hand are big-budget Hollywood epics like Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings, made by non-believing filmmakers whose subversive treatment of the Biblical source material has turned off Christian audiences. On the other are low-budget independent efforts by believing filmmakers whose genuine reverence for the Biblical material has been undermined by heavy-handed preachiness and cringe-worthy acting. But two affecting new historical Christian films are bridging that gap and elevating the genre to higher ground.
MILD SPOILERS AHEAD
Risen, written and directed by Kevin Reynolds of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and The Count of Monte Cristo fame (as well as Waterworld infamy), premiered last month. It is the story of a first-century, war-weary, Roman military tribune named Clavius, masterfully underplayed by Joseph Fiennes, who seeks a respite from slaughter – a “day without death.” He is charged with investigating the disappearance of Jesus’ body from the tomb after his crucifixion. Pontius Pilate and the local religious leadership pressure Clavius to help them suppress the troublesome new Christian cultists for political reasons, by accusing them of staging a fake resurrection of their Messiah.

But Clavius gradually comes to the realization that Jesus’ followers are innocent and telling the truth – their master has indeed risen from the grave. Clavius himself has seen evidence that shatters his pagan worldview: “I cannot reconcile all of this with the world I knew,” he complains, until he realizes that the “day without death” he craves can be found in Jesus’ promise of eternal life.
Today is the premiere of the somewhat more family-friendly The Young Messiah, a film directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh and co-written with his wife Betsy [full disclosure: the Nowrastehs are friends of mine and I have assisted Cyrus on other projects]. Based on an Anne Rice novel and focused on the emotional dynamics of Jesus’ family, the movie depicts a very human seven-year-old Son of God struggling with the budding awareness of his own divine nature, which causes him to question who he really is and why he is here.

Like Joseph Fiennes in Risen, The Young Messiah’s Sean Bean (a familiar face from Game of Thrones and countless others) plays a war-weary, unbelieving Roman soldier whose personal confrontation with Jesus shakes him to the core. Tasked with finding and killing the young boy, whom the decadent King Herod perceives to be a threat, Bean tracks Jesus down in the Jerusalem temple, but is awed – and redeemed – by the child’s undeniable spiritual power.
As Rice herself put it, the film “invites the viewer to reflect on what it might have been like for Jesus to put aside His Omniscience as God and grow up amongst us. The film is an engulfing and entertaining and edifying depiction of the Son of God as a child.” Indeed it is. Rice added that she is “grateful for countless emails from readers telling me [that her] novel deepened their sense of the reality of Jesus, or made Him real for them in a way that was entirely new,” and now the film version will make that same impact on a much wider movie audience.
Even low-budget indie Christian films today tend to do well financially because Christian audiences are hungry for movies, regardless of their quality, that affirm their values. But in Risen and The Young Messiah, faith-based films have finally come into their own as high-quality cinematic storytelling that Christians don’t either have to reject for theological reasons (such as director Darren Aronofsky’s environmentalist revision of Noah and the Ark) or be embarrassed by (Kirk Cameron’s earnest but amateurish Fireproof).
Both Risen and The Young Messiah feature top-notch storytelling, production values, and acting. Both engage audiences with understated, character-driven emotional punches rather than rely on bombastic special effects. Despite their somewhat fictionalized premises, both exhibit a clear reverence for the Biblical message and a respect for the Christian audiences at whom these movies are largely aimed. Both skillfully and powerfully portray unique perspectives on Jesus that we haven’t seen onscreen before – his early years and post-resurrection – and both successfully capture Jesus’ humanity as well as his divinity.
One of the production companies behind The Young Messiah is 1492 Pictures, run by Chris Columbus, the producer and director of blockbusters like the Harry Potter films. He calls the movie “the greatest story never told” and believes that “there’s a huge audience out there for faith based movies.” Having a powerhouse like Columbus behind such a superlative, respectful film as The Young Messiah will help it find that huge audience and encourage Hollywood support for other faith-based projects – and that bodes well for the future of Christian films.
From Acculturated, 3/11/16

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Gentleman’s Club That Turns Boys Into Men

In a trash-talking, reality-show culture that rewards bad behavior and self-promoting arrogance, quiet gentlemen have largely become quaint rarities, charming but outmoded relics of generations past. The news today is dominated by bullying presidential candidates, and the entertainment arena is ruled by foul-mouthed superheroes; unless young boys are taught gentlemanly standards by the males in their lives at home and in their neighborhood, they will be hard-pressed to find role models for them elsewhere in our culture.
Raymond Nelson, the student support specialist at Memminger Elementary in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, isn’t waiting around for our broken culture to right itself. He works with at-risk children, many of whom come from broken homes with no father figure. Grim statistics bear out just what a devastating effect fatherlessness has on boys, who are then more inclined to turn to crime, to take drugs, to drop out of school, and to perpetuate this cycle of failure one day with broken families involving their own children.
Recognizing this, over the recent winter break Raymond Nelson came up with an idea to help the young boys among his students break that tragic chain and become young men better prepared for success at home and in the workplace. He started The Gentleman’s Club.
For once, a “gentleman’s club” is turning boys into men and not the other way around. Every Wednesday nearly 60 students from the first through the fifth grades at Memminger meet to discuss a new topic on etiquette and self-presentation such as how to shake hands, make eye contact, open doors for ladies, and address their elders. Their motto is “Look good, feel good, do good.” They are required to wear ties and jackets, and Nelson has a stash of donated jackets, vests and ties for those boys who don’t have their own. “I was thinking maybe if I have the boys dress for success,” said Nelson, “when was the last time you saw someone fighting in a tuxedo?”
Nelson understands that what you wear affects your attitude and sense of self. With youth fashion tending toward drooping, baggy pants and athletic wear, wearing a suit sets the boys apart as young men. It instills in them a certain sense of seriousness, maturity, dignity, and responsibility, and their behavior changes accordingly. And dressing up affects not only the way they see themselves, but the way others see them as well. “They like the reaction of walking up to classrooms and [hearing], ‘Oh, you look so nice and handsome.’ They just love it,” said Nelson.
But the Gentleman’s Club training goes beyond appearance to include manners, which are also in short supply these days, and to cultivate a sense of chivalry toward girls and women – and God knows that’s largely absent in our culture as well. Because the younger boys are still at the age at which they consider girls to be infected with cooties, Nelson bases his lessons and examples on how they would treat their own sisters, mothers and teachers.
Nelson himself had joined a similar group as a child at his mother's request. “It helped me to be a better man and I could spread the knowledge to the young boys,” Nelson said. “I know a lot of them struggle because a lot of them don’t have men at home, so I just want them to grow up and think of the things that I teach them.”
The seriousness and self-confidence the boys are acquiring in the Gentleman’s Club are also helping them with their schoolwork. “A lot of my students perform well when they know someone cares about them,” said Nelson. In fact, the Club has been so successful at Memminger that Charleston County School District officials say they want other local schools to begin similar programs in their schools.
Our culture is suffering a manhood crisis. The rejection of chivalry as sexism and the decline of gentlemanly standards have left our sons confused about masculinity and led to a corresponding moral degradation of the entire culture. Such standards don’t come naturally; boys must be educated in them and challenged to uphold them, and for that they need role models and teachers like Raymond Nelson. He may be the only such figure in the lives of most of his 60 students. Bravo for him – but how many more boys there must be around the country who, like his students, need a Raymond Nelson to start them on the path to becoming young men.
From Acculturated, 3/3/16