Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Closing of the Feminist Mind

In a Vox poll taken last month, an overwhelming majority (85 percent) of the respondents claimed to support equality for women, but a mere 18 percent were willing to label themselves feminists. To understand why the disconnect is so striking, look no further than the controversy attending recent university talks presented by “Factual Feminist” vlogger and writer Christina Hoff Sommers.
Ms. Sommers, author of the must-reads Freedom Feminism, The War Against Boys, and Who Stole Feminism?, spoke recently at Georgetown University on the topic “What’s Right (and Wrong) About Feminism” at a standing-room only, Clare Booth Luce Policy Institute-sponsored event. You can see that here. If you’ve ever seen her speak in the media or on YouTube, you know that there couldn’t be a friendlier, less threatening face of feminism.
And yet she was greeted, if you can call it that, by a small faction of horrified students who issued “trigger warnings” for anyone who might be traumatized by her “hate speech,” notices of “safe spaces” elsewhere as refuge from her intimidating presence, and ludicrous accusations that she supports rape. Protesters also made their own presence felt during the speech itself. These students didn’t simply disagree with Ms. Sommers – they didn’t want her viewpoint heard, so they resorted to demonizing her.
Predictably, there was more of the same at Ms. Sommers’ more recent talk at Oberlin College, where she was hosted by the Oberlin College Republicans and Libertarians (OCRL). Among the messages posted on campus in advance of the talk were such misrepresentations and shameful lies as “Christina Hoff Sommers and OCRL support rapists!!” and “F*ck anti-feminists.” Shouldn’t college students at least be able to exhibit a broader vocabulary than the F-word?
Prior to Ms. Sommers’ Oberlin talk, two young women made an announcement to the audience about a “safe space” alternate event, where they warned that they wouldn’t allow any “toxic people.” When one of the pair urged anyone with questions to come talk to them, the other half-joked that “We’re pretty cool. We only bite people we dislike” – in other words, people with whom they disagree. You know, toxic people.
In attendance was a male blogger from Third Base Politics, who reported on the unconcealed hostility toward Ms. Sommers. It’s worth quoting him at length to get the full feel of the protesters’ petulant extremism:
Many in the audience were quite rude and frequently interrupted Sommers. Many students sat in the audience with duct tape over their mouths, inferring that Sommers’ mere presence was an attempt to silence them. Ironically, by labeling her a “rapist supporter” and interrupting her, they were actually striving to silence her.
For most in the audience, rational discussion of facts is not even welcome.
Don’t give me facts. Just shut up. That’s how Sommers was responded to.
At the end, Sommers took questions. All but one were obviously hostile to her presence, and she took questions from an equal number of male and female attendees. A female student behind me exclaimed “Oh look! She called on a boy!” every single time she took a question from a male student, even though every one of the male questions she received was equally as hostile to her as the female questions.
After taking questions from three women in a row, she took the final question from a man. The student behind me again remarked “Oh look another question from a boy!”
I politely asked her, “But weren’t the last three girls?”
She glared at me and said, “This is an event about FEMINISM!”
So, as far as these loud-and-proud feminists are concerned, males aren’t allowed to express ideas or opinions about feminism, even when they align with those of the females in the audience. That’s because they don’t view men, even sympathetic ones, as partners in resolving the growing divide between men and women, but as the enemy. Men are guilty of “rape culture” simply by virtue of their genitalia. It’s the very definition of sexism and bigotry.
Even before Ms. Sommers’ appearance, dozens of feminists signed a letter to the Oberlin Review called “In Response to Sommers’ Talk: A Love Letter to Ourselves,” a title which fittingly captures their insistence on wrapping themselves in a protective layer of self-righteous narcissism. The fact that they “responded” to her talk even before having heard it speaks volumes about their closed-mindedness.
The letter included this dismissive gem: “We could spend all of our time and energy explaining all of the ways [Ms. Sommers is] harmful. But why should we?” Well, you should because without specifics and evidence, your accusations have no merit or substance.
This is the reason so many people today reject the “feminist” label despite supporting equality wholeheartedly: the movement has been hijacked by a radical minority of intellectually intolerant and militant misandrists whose rude, crude fanaticism alienates the rational majority represented by Christina Hoff Sommers. Their bitterness, anger, resentfulness, and determination to perpetuate the War Between the Sexes are not shared by most Americans, male or female.
The militants will learn this the hard way when they depart their safe spaces on American campuses where their sensitivity is coddled, and they enter the real world where – at least for now – there is no shield against facts and different viewpoints.
(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 4/28/15

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Actors Quit a Ferguson Play That Doesn’t Blame Wilson

Progressives know that history will be remembered, and thus the future will be shaped, not through textbooks but through dramatic treatments of historical events: movies, television, plays. That’s why left-leaning actors are quitting a new play, about the controversial shooting of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri: because it doesn’t promote a narrative about the incident that suits the progressive agenda.
Ferguson is written and directed by the openly conservative Phelim McAleer, a man who is not intimidated by controversy or leftist fury. He is the filmmaker behind Not Evil Just Wrong (about the global warming hysteria), FrackNation (in which he takes on environmentalists and anti-fracking activists) and the upcoming Gosnell (about the mass-murdering abortionist, a film being scripted and directed, respectively, by writer Andrew Klavan and Justified actor Nick Searcy – also prominent conservatives).
The play is opening in Los Angeles, but McAleer also hopes to put the show on YouTube and bring the production to Ferguson itself. His goal with the play, as with all his work, is to rescue the truth from propaganda and shine a light on both.
The actors’ discomfort with the script is very revealing because, as McAleer puts it in an email he circulated in response to a Los Angeles Times article about the actors, “The script is comprised entirely of Grand Jury testimony. No added lines. Just the truth. But the play is Verbatim Theatre, word-for-word testimony heard by the Grand Jury. The only agenda is the truth.” Nowhere in the L.A. Times piece is this made clear about the script.
At the end of the play, the audience is invited to vote on whether Wilson should have been indicted. “This time the audience gets to be the Grand Jury,” McAleer wrote on the play’s Indiegogo crowdfunding page. “The performances in Los Angeles will be dramatized staged readings with interactive voting. Every night the audience will decide who’s telling the truth, decide who’s lying, and decide if they would indict Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown.”
One actor, Philip Casnoff, showed up for the first rehearsal of Ferguson without having even read the full script. He assumed that the testimony would consist of a variety of viewpoints that would, at the very least, reflect a “fog of war,” if not actually condemn Officer Wilson. But then he realized that the testimony didn’t bolster the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” narrative that the left used to gin up angry protests nationwide; instead, it supports Wilson’s side of the story.
The play ends with the prosecutor asking a witness, “Do you feel like this could have ended up any other way?” The witness replies, “Yeah, it could have, if Michael Brown had just stopped running,” meaning running toward Wilson. “It could have ended another way. The officer had no other choice.”
The Times reported that after those lines were read in rehearsal, “an awkward quiet fell over the cast members.” Several members, the Times claimed, requested changes to the script that would add more balance to the final witness’ perspective, that would be more sympathetic to Brown. McAleer rejected those requests.
“It felt like the purpose of the piece was to show, ‘Of course he was not indicted — here’s why,’” actor Casnoff said. And when he learned that the playwright was an unapologetic conservative, Casnoff, who describes himself as “very liberal, left-wing-leaning,” thought, “Whoa, this is not the place for me to be.” He and four others of the 13-member cast quit the play.
“He claims that he wrote this to try to get to the truth of it, but everybody’s truth is totally subjective,” said a black actress who resigned. “When you come to the matter of what really happened, nobody really knows for sure, because everybody has a different take on it… It just didn’t feel right to me.”
It didn’t feel right to her because she wants to believe the shooting of Brown was racial injustice. But she’s wrong. Yes, people interpret events subjectively; that’s why the law requires evidence, and that’s why the claims of witnesses who told investigators that Brown had his hands up, was shot in the back while running, was shot while lying on the ground, etc. were recanted or debunked – because the physical evidence proved them false. “The truth is the truth,” says McAleer. “If it doesn’t fit in with their beliefs, they need to change their beliefs.”
Another actress, Donzaleigh Abernathy, the daughter of civil rights movement leader Ralph David Abernathy, asked a question in rehearsal that was often heard during the Ferguson investigation: “Why not shoot him in the leg?” It’s a question that never fails to elicit eye-rolling and head-shaking from law enforcement and anyone else who understands that violent confrontations don’t go down like they do on television.
The Times described Abernathy as one of the script’s most heated critics. Prior to a cast meeting with McAleer scheduled for last Thursday night, she said, “I want to hear what he has to say face to face. I actually want to know, on a moral level, how can you do something like this that you know will divide America? Does it make you feel good? Obviously he has a personal agenda. What is his personal agenda?”
Of course, what divided America over Ferguson was lies, not the truth. What divided America was the race-obsessed left’s opportunistic agenda, not McAleer’s. “These are people who claim to love diversity,” McAleer said, “and they don’t love diversity — they just want people to agree with them.” Or else.
McAleer is undaunted by the desertions. “I’m determined to fight this attempt at censorship by the theatre/Hollywood establishment,” he wrote on the Indiegogo page. “The show will go on. The truth about Ferguson will be told.” If the rest of what the Times describes as “the decidedly more liberal cast” quits — and some are threatening to — McAleer said he will find a new cast. “There’s got to be some actors in L.A. who aren’t scared of controversy,” he told the Times.
There are, but there aren’t that many who aren’t scared of the truth.
(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 4/26/15)

Monday, April 27, 2015

Mark Tapson in the New York Post

The New York Post picked up another piece of mine from Acculturated: Jeremy Renner, a Real-Life Action Dad. Good to see celebrities recognized for being committed fathers.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Trudeau: ‘Charlie Hebdo’ Reaped a Bitter Harvest

Under the title “The Abuse of Satire,” The Atlantic posted the text of remarks Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau delivered recently at Long Island University upon receiving an award. In his address, the satirist spoke about the “red line” that satire must not cross; as an example of such a transgression he cited Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon assault on the sacred cows of Islam – an assault that resulted in the murder of the French magazine’s staff. In faulting them, Trudeau was essentially blaming the victims and absolving their Islamic butchers.

“I, and most of my colleagues,” he said, “have spent a lot of time discussing red lines since the tragedy in Paris.” Apparently that discussion didn’t result in the use of clear, honest language to describe the attack at the Hebdo offices, which was not an act-of-God tragedy like a tsunami; it was a massacre for which Islamic terrorists were solely responsible.

In any case, as background Trudeau mentioned the example of the Muhammad cartoon controversy that began eight years ago in Denmark, when Muslim provocateurs took an obscure collection of satirical cartoons that were unflattering to Islam and used them to inflame outrage throughout the Muslim world, resulting in worldwide riots and the deaths of dozens. Trudeau saw those cartoons as intentionally and needlessly provocative. He criticized the “free speech absolutists,” who defended the cartoonists, for rejecting judgment and common sense, and the cartoons themselves for serving no positive social end.

Similarly, Trudeau claimed, Hebdo “succeeded in provoking many Muslims throughout France to make common cause with its most violent outliers. This is a bitter harvest.” This is a common argument from the left – that criticism or ridicule of Islam drives the “moderates” into the arms of the fundamentalists. The left never bothers to ask itself why the “moderates” themselves don’t rise up en masse to defy the “tiny minority” of fundamentalists who have supposedly hijacked their religion, or why “moderates” would, under any circumstances, ally themselves with medieval butchers whose goal is the elimination of western civilization.

As a Christian, it would never occur to me to respond to attacks on Christianity (which are legion) by enlisting in the Lord’s Resistance Army or joining the Westboro Baptist Church (both of which, in any case, are satanic perversions of Christianity that no church authority sanctions – unlike the case with Islamic radicals).

Trudeau noted that satire is supposed to afflict the comfortable, to “punch upward” against authority. It’s “the little guy against the powerful.” But “ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny—it's just mean”:

By attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons, Charlie wandered into the realm of hate speech, which in France is only illegal if it directly incites violence. Well, voila—the 7 million copies that were published following the killings did exactly that, triggering violent protests across the Muslim world, including one in Niger, in which ten people died.

This is shamefully misleading. The staff of Charlie Hebdo did not die violent deaths because they ridiculed the helpless “non-privileged”; they died because, unlike all but a few cartoonists and satirists, they refused to be cowed by fanatical savages that wield an ever-increasing degree of power in the civilized world.

Muslims are a minority in the West but they are not non-privileged, powerless, or disenfranchised. They are accorded the same rights and opportunities as everyone else; they are actively supported and protected by the guardians of PC multiculturalism in government, academia, and the media; and their increasing demands for special consideration are almost always granted. To whatever extent they are not integrated into western culture, it is because the fundamentalists among them actively reject assimilation and seek instead to establish a parallel culture.

“It’s not easy figuring out where the red line is for satire anymore,” declared Trudeau. “But it’s always worth asking this question: Is anyone, anyone at all, laughing? If not, maybe you crossed it.” But in Hebdo’s case the purpose was not so much to make people laugh as to stand up for free speech in defiance of a rising tide of violent Islamic hatred and intolerance. The fact that the satirical jabs drew gunfire in response was a good, if terrible, indication that the satirists were directly over the target.

But “what free speech absolutists have failed to acknowledge,” Trudeau continued, “is that because one has the right to offend a group does not mean that one must. Or that that group gives up the right to be outraged… At some point free expression absolutism becomes… its own kind of fanaticism.”

How predictable that a leftist considers the defense of free speech fanatical, but he will not apply that label to the butchers of Paris. And he has set up a straw man here: the defenders of free speech never said that offense must be given, or that the target of offense has no right to be offended. They assert only that no one has the right to shut down free speech by claiming offense, much less to go on a killing rampage in revenge for it.

“As Jon Stewart said in the aftermath of the killings, comedy in a free society shouldn’t take courage,” Trudeau says. But today it does, because we are under assault from barbaric ideologues who don’t find anything funny but the screams of dying Christians, and whose response to ridicule and criticism is murder. The proper response of the citizens of a free society is to stand with the satirist, not stand over his grave wagging a finger and blaming him for his own murder. That is the way of cowards and appeasers.

The real “bitter harvest,” as Trudeau puts it, is a Western culture weakened from within by irresponsible Islamic immigration and by cultural jihad, and victimized by jihadist violence. Yes, the Charlie Hebdo murders were a bitter harvest, but they stemmed not from the magazine’s satire but from the seeds of multiculturalist tolerance planted by progressives like Trudeau.

(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 4/23/15)

Sony, PBS, and Affleck Conspire to Bury His Slavery Connection

In the PBS program Finding Your Roots, guest stars ranging from Barbara Walters to Derek Jeter to documentarian Ken Burns explore their genealogy and are often taken aback at what is uncovered. Actor Don Cheadle, for example, was stunned to learn (in an earlier incarnation of the show) that his ancestors were slaves – not of white Southerners, but of Cherokee Indians. But it recently came to light that for the first time, a celebrity pressured the show’s producers to bury his own ancestral connection to slavery.
The show is hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. You may remember him as President Obama’s Harvard friend whose justifiable arrest in 2009 prompted Obama to announce to the world that the Cambridge police “acted stupidly.” A hacked Sony email from July 22 of last year, recently posted on WikiLeaks, has uncovered an embarrassing exchange in which Gates wrote to Sony USA chief Michael Lynton, saying “I need your advice”:
One of our guests has asked us to edit out something about one of his ancestors–the fact that he owned slaves. Now, four or five of our guests this season descend from slave owners, including Ken Burns. We’ve never had anyone ever try to censor or edit what we found. He’s a megastar. What do we do?
That megastar is actor/director Ben Affleck. You may remember him from his dustup with notable atheists and Islam critics Bill Maher and Sam Harris on Maher’s show Real Time last October, which I wrote about for FrontPage here. In that heated confrontation (well, Affleck was heated; Maher and Harris tried to reason with him), noted lefty Affleck attacked the pair for what he considered their Islamophobic positions on the Religion of Peace.
Making his Batman debut in the upcoming movie Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, Affleck no doubt feared that his representation of the iconic superhero – not to mention his own reputation – would be tarnished by a familial connection to slavery. So the actor confidentially asked PBS executives to excise that from his family tree after it was exposed during filming.
To answer Gates’ question to Sony’s Lynton about how to handle the request, the right thing to do would be to treat a megastar the same as you treat every other guest on the show. But Lynton’s response was positively conspiratorial:
The big question is who knows that the material is in the doc and is being taken out. I would take it out if no one knows, but if it gets out that you are editing the material based on this kind of sensitivity then it gets tricky. Again, all things being equal I would definitely take it out.
So the Sony chief was fine with suppressing the inconvenient truth as long as “no one knows” and that it never came to light. Spoken like a politician at heart.
To his minor credit, Gates replied that concealing the material would be a violation of PBS rules, “even for Batman,” and would “compromise our integrity.” As for Lynton’s question about who knew, Gates said, “All my producers would know; his PR agency the same as mine, and everyone there has been involved trying to resolve this; my agent at CAA knows. And PBS would know.”
Gates ultimately figured out how to handle the dilemma: cave in to Affleck but minimize the damage publicly by claiming that Affleck’s slave-owning ancestor wasn’t a big enough deal to be included in the program itself. And indeed, it wasn’t included: Affleck’s episode of the show aired last October 14 and focused on the actor’s more admirable ancestors, including a Revolutionary War combatant and Affleck’s own mother, a civil rights marcher. The slave-owner didn’t get even a walk-on.
Gates released a statement that explained: “Ultimately, I maintain editorial control on all of my projects and, with my producers, decide what will make for the most compelling program. In the case of Mr. Affleck — we focused on what we felt were the most interesting aspects of his ancestry.”
PBS backed up Gates. According to their statement, “[Gates] has told us that after reviewing approximately ten hours of footage for the episode, he and his producers made an independent editorial judgment to choose the most compelling narrative.”
After the news of Affleck’s request began to gather momentum in the media, Affleck himself released a statement in which he said he felt “embarrassed” by the revelation, that “it left a bad taste” in his mouth, and that he “didn’t want any show about my family to include a guy who owned slaves.”
But he needn’t feel embarrassed. No shame should accrue to Ben Affleck, or to any of us, simply because of the sins of our fathers; conservatism teaches that we are individuals responsible for our own actions and beliefs, not those of our ancestors or others of our race or gender or any other group classification we may fall under. We are certainly not responsible for horrors committed under a past institution that every rational person today considers abhorrent. Therefore, while it may be interesting that Affleck has a slave-owning ancestor, it’s not his fault.
But progressives are collectivists. You are not an individual, they claim; you are your demographic. If you are white, as Affleck is, your skin color marks you as one of the oppressors, which is why rich white progressives like him bend over so far backward to identify with or defend the supposed oppressed (as he believed he was doing in his argument with Maher about Muslims). Therefore, a slave-owning relative in Affleck’s past is an embarrassment that colors the way other progressives might see Affleck, and the way he sees himself. So it must be suppressed.
Secondly, imagine if the subject of the show had been an openly conservative actor rather than a multiculturalist progressive. Had the show turned up a genealogical connection between a slave owner and Jon Voigt or Clint Eastwood or Kelsey Grammer or Tom Selleck or Mel Gibson or James Woods or Robert Davi or Nick Searcy, does anyone believe for a moment that the producers wouldn’t have pounced on it as that episode’s “most compelling narrative”? Had any of those actors privately requested that the show avoid mentioning his connection to slavery, does anyone believe that Gates, Sony and PBS would have colluded to find a way to help him save face?
(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 4/24/15)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Jeremy Renner, Action Dad

As the helplessly smitten father of two little girls (with a third on the way), I have a soft spot for stories about manly dads who freely confess to being wrapped around their daughter’s little finger. So I was touched when Fox News reported that tough guy action star Jeremy Renner recently gushed about his two-year-old Ava Berlin in an interview with Ellen DeGeneres that will air Wednesday.
Ava is the daughter of Renner, 44, and Canadian model Sonni Pacheco, who married in early 2014 almost a year after Ava’s birth. Renner was grateful that he married late in life, after some career success, so he could afford to concentrate on family. Fatherhood “really kind of changed my perspective on a lot of things,” he told DeGeneres. “It’s kind of screwed my career in a lot of ways, because I don’t really care about it so much because I care about her so much. She’s, like, number one in my life. And now I get to do movies on the side.”
To be clear, his career is still very active but he has a different motivation now. In an interview with Capitol File magazine, Renner said,
The only thing I think about when I’m not with my baby is, “How do I get to my baby?” I need to get to her, and I’m very miserable when I don’t see her. I really love being a father. The only thing that has changed is my perspective on things. I still work, probably even more. It used to be all for myself, so I’m not old and broke. All these things I still do, but I do it now for the future of my baby, and if it gets in the way of her well-being, then I stop.
Balancing his profession and fatherhood is challenging because of the travel demands, but Renner claims to make every effort to stay as present in Ava’s life as possible. “I do a lot of flights back,” he said to DeGeneres. “I did like forty flights back. From London to [L.A.] pretty much every other week. [I] see her sometimes for eight hours and then fly back.”
Fatherhood is “the best thing ever,” Renner said in a Today show segment last October. “Now I know what real love is, what real existence is. Best thing that I've experienced in my life.” As clich├ęd as that may sound to someone who doesn’t yet have children, as it did to me before I had kids, I can vouch for the truth of it. Fatherhood is a humbling gift that throws you suddenly out of the center of your universe and puts you in orbit around your child instead – as it should be. Good on Renner for recognizing this and embracing it.
Unfortunately, as Hollywood couples often do – and “ordinary” couples too – he and Sonni broke up last December after less than a year of marriage. It’s unclear what went wrong, but a source told E! News that Renner “wanted to make sure Ava had a solid family unit and tried to make it work. It’s really sad because Jeremy loves Ava so much and hates that she will live her life with her parents split up.”
Pacheco asked that the court grant her full physical custody of their daughter. The E! News source said at the time that the custody battle “is going to get ugly. His main priority is the baby and he will fight for full custody if it comes to that. All he cares about is being a dad. He is an amazing father. He is worried she is going to go back to Canada and take the baby.” Apparently he won at least a partial victory; earlier this month it was reported that Renner and Pacheco were awarded joint physical custody of the little girl, so he gets more than just visitation rights.
“Daddy’s my best role to date, I think,” the star of The Hurt Locker and Avengers told Ellen DeGeneres to big applause from her charmed studio audience. But a father actively involved in his little girl’s life isn’t just adorable and admirable – it’s also essential but increasingly rare: one out of three American children now live in homes without the biological father, as compared to 11% in 1960. That is an alarming decline, considering the devastating impact that fatherlessness has on children and ultimately on society.
As Dr. Meg Meeker puts it in Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, a father is the most important man in his daughter’s life. Girls (boys too, but let’s focus on the girls) need their fathers’ guidance, strength, wisdom, and loving presence in their lives. Children are adrift without that, and they often grow to become adults adrift as well.
When an action hero like Jeremy Renner gushes in the media about his daughter and the joys of fatherhood at every opportunity, his joy and commitment set an excellent example, especially for the young male fans who themselves will someday be fathers of little girls. Hopefully his influence will contribute in some small way to the reversal of that slide toward more fatherless kids.
(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 4/23/15)

‘Scary Lucy’ and the Flight from Beauty

It’s a commonplace today that contemporary art is too often silly, incomprehensible, ugly, or even disgusting. But it isn’t often that a work of art is actually considered terrifying.
Recently the hometown fans of legendary comedienne Lucille Ball were stricken at the unveiling of a rather nightmarish bronze statue in her honor. Rightfully nicknamed “Scary Lucy” in the media, it purports to depict Ms. Ball, who died in 1989, in perhaps her most famous comedy routine: as a commercial pitchwoman for the unpalatable “Vitameatavegamin.”
The statue caused such a backlash among the outraged citizens of Ball’s birthplace of Celoron, New York that its creator actually wrote to The Hollywood Reporter to publicly apologize for what he called “by far my most unsettling sculpture,” and to offer to fix it.
This prompted The Guardian’s art critic Jonathan Jones to address the bigger picture of bad sculpture in a rant with the outstanding title, “The scourge of the bronze zombies: how terrible statues are ruining art.” Jones declared that
it may be time to ban artists from creating statues. They have simply lost the ability to do it. The art that once gave us Michelangelo’s David and Rodin’s Burghers of Calais has degenerated into a cynical province of second-rate hacks who are filling up city squares, railway stations and other public spaces all over the world with ugly, stupid and occasionally terrifying parodies of the human form.
Don’t hold back, Mr. Jones. Tell us how you really feel.
In addition to “Scary Lucy,” Jones went on to name two other statues in London as examples of such “crimes against good taste,” including the ghastly A Conversation with Oscar Wilde near Trafalgar Square, which depicts what appears to be the decomposing author bursting out of his coffin; a “gaunt and deathly” bust of Margaret Thatcher in the Falkland Islands; and, curiously, a statue of a raincoated Peter Falk as Detective Columbo in Budapest, of all places. “There’s only one thing to be said in favor of all these dire statues,” Jones concluded. “Simply by looking at their failure, future generations may be inspired to create better.”
What’s with the apparent epidemic of ugly public sculptures? Jones is at a loss to explain it. After all, he wrote, “Modern art supposedly killed off this kind of vulgar realism.” But modern – or more precisely, postmodern – art, with its deconstruction of the beautiful, is precisely what is to blame.
The experience of beauty, as philosopher Roger Scruton puts it in a brilliant little must-read from 2009 called Beauty: A Very Short Introduction, is a reverential one in which art “points us beyond this world, to ‘a kingdom of ends’ in which our immortal longings and our desire for perfection are finally answered.” The yearning for beauty is our aspiration “towards the highest unity with the transcendental,” and the most emotionally and philosophically compelling art fulfills that aspiration.
But postmodern art represents what Scruton calls “a flight from beauty” that no longer points us toward the sacred; indeed, it actively seeks to desecrate the sacred. The result, he says, is the rise of “self-consciously transgressive” works that do not engage us spiritually or emotionally; they leave viewers cold, confused, even repulsed. “The degradation of art has never been more apparent,” Scruton declares in his book – and as the Guardian critic Jones noted, it’s plenty apparent in today’s public sculpture.
What then can be done to reverse the tide of ugly public art? For a start, we can follow the example of the people of Celoron, New York by complaining loudly about bad art and demanding its removal. Maybe this will begin to send a message to artists and their sponsors that we will no longer accept fraudulence or kitsch or contempt for beauty in the public square. Perhaps it will encourage sculptors once again to find value in beauty, and to strive to unite us with the transcendental.
(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 4/22/15)

Obama’s Divine Rainbow

Just when you think the left’s passionate idolatry of Barack Obama might be waning a bit after six years in office, along comes a photo posted recently on the White House official Twitter account to remind you of the President’s divinity. The image appears to show the Messiah-in-Chief shooting a rainbow out of his palm, as only God or perhaps an LGBT Spiderman can do.

After clinching the “framework” of a nuclear deal with our enemy the Iranian regime in which the President made doormat Neville Chamberlain look like Winston Churchill, Obama traveled to Kingston, Jamaica recently to speak to impressionable young fans, lecture the leaders of Caribbean countries about fighting global warming global cooling climate change bad weather, and tour a museum dedicated to fellow marijuana enthusiast Bob Marley.

At his departure at the end of the week, a gorgeous rainbow happened to be arcing overhead as Obama climbed the stairway to Air Force One. White House official photographer Paul Souza captured, or manipulated, a shot of the rainbow seemingly emanating from the President’s hand as he waved goodbye at the plane’s door. Souza posted the pic on Twitter with this accompanying affirmation from Obama: “With hard work and hope, change is always within our reach.” But the subtext was, “And as a sign of my power, mortals, behold as I call forth rainbows.”

In Biblical terms, the rainbow is a symbol of God’s postdiluvian promise to humankind that He will never again destroy the earth by water. But apparently Obama’s PR people have decided to rebrand the rainbow now as a symbol of The One’s divinity and of his promise to Jamaica that, like General MacArthur or Jesus, he shall return. He’ll come back someday to bask in more sunny Third World adoration, hit the island’s finest golf courses, and, if he has time, entertain the masses with a spray of shooting stars from his fingertips.

(Speaking of fingertips: another interpretation is that the photo was intended to suggest not that the President himself is godlike, but that God produced the rainbow to touch Obama as a sign of His favor, much like Michelangelo’s God stretches out his finger to bestow the spark of life on Adam in the Renaissance artist’s “Creation of Adam.” Either way, the implication is that Obama is no mere mortal.)

Reactions from the leftist media were predictably awe-struck. The gay online magazine Out declared that “it’s impossible not to read into the [photo] a continuation of President Obama’s increasingly aggressive drive for LGBT rights and equality.” “Now This Is One Hell of a Rainbow Photo,” Mother Jones approved. “White House photographer Pete Souza caught this incredible shot of President Obama departing Jamaica. Beautiful. Massive,” gushed the radical feminist site Jezebel.

The photo is reminiscent of the deifying propaganda we’ve been subjected to ever since Obama’s first election, when he was supernaturally expected to “slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. Remember when schoolchildren across the country were coached to sing his praises like good little totalitarian youth? When the media relentlessly promoted images of his haloed head? When Newsweek entitled a cover story about him “The Second Coming”? And when celebrities like Jamie Foxx and Sting referred to Obama as our Savior?

This new pic from his Jamaican jaunt is in the same vein of those disturbing depictions of Obama as a demigod. It’s worthy of the degree of leader-worship normally reserved for Pharoahic despots. When the boy tyrant Kim Jong Un sees it, his architecturally-shorn head is going to explode from envy.

The photo reeks of such adoration that people heaped mockery upon it on social media. “Holy propaganda, Batman. This would make any third-world dictator proud,” read one response on Twitter. “Gotta reach that 'my little pony' demographic,” smirked another tweet, referring to the Hasbro toy company’s Rainbow Ponies franchise. A third tweet: “Messiah Much there Dear Leader? #Vomit.” Much more hilarious scorn can be found here below the reverential photo on the White House Twitter feed.

In response to conservative accusations of idolatry, some progressives no doubt will try to claim that Souza’s snapshot was intended to be a tongue-in-cheek, lighthearted commentary on Obama as a beacon of hope. They will brush off criticism of the photo as conservative humorlessness.

But nowhere in Souza’s or in the White House’s comments is there any indication that the picture is intended as anything less than blatant hagiography, designed not only to flatter Obama the Sun King himself, but also to send a thrill up the collective leg of the masses of low-info voters who still cling to his hope and promises despite mounting evidence of his destructive agenda. On Pete Souza’s Instagram page, for example, reverential viewer reactions to his photo ranged from the gag-inducing (“YES HE CAN!”) to the drug-addled (“God...makes no mistakes...Obama came to shine a light on the beautiful”).

The progressive vision is a totalitarian fantasy world of peace (through disarmament and capitulation), equality (through enforced social engineering and the redistribution of wealth), and collective genuflection to big government. And no totalitarian vision is complete without a semi- or fully divine Dear Leader to whom all love is directed and all submission required. It is an ideal that demands the denial of reality, of history, and of human nature, as well as the worship of a false idol – but none of that is an issue for progressives.

(This article originally appeared here on FrontPage Mag, 4/22/15)

Monday, April 20, 2015

Kelsey Grammer’s Lesson of Forgiveness

Our common fate, Longfellow once wrote, is that "into each life some rain must fall." But some people have to weather heavier deluges than others, and being a celebrity is no guarantee against that. In a recent Vanity Fair interview, Kelsey Grammer of Cheers and Frasier fame spoke recently about a history of more family tragedy than anyone should have to bear, and how forgiveness – for himself and others – has enabled him to cope.
The grandfather who raised him died of cancer when Grammer was 11. Two years later his estranged father was murdered. His two half-brothers died in a scuba-diving accident. Most disturbingly, his sister Karen was 18 years old when she was abducted, raped repeatedly, and brutally murdered in Colorado by thrill killer Freddie Glenn and accomplices in 1975.
When Glenn was finally eligible for parole in 2009, Grammer wrote a powerful letter to the parole board (part of which he struggled to read aloud to Oprah Winfrey in an emotional 2012 interview) describing Glenn as a butcher and a monster, and eulogizing Karen, whose loss had devastated the surviving Grammers. “I was her big brother,” he wrote. “I was supposed to protect her—I could not. I’ve never gotten over it. I was supposed to save her. I could not. It very nearly destroyed me.”
He went on in the letter to describe how Glenn had further victimized not just those he killed but their families as well. Then he concluded with his deeply considered reflections on forgiveness:
I am a man of faith and my faith teaches me that I must forgive. And so I do. I forgive this man for what he has done. Forgiveness allows me to live my life. It allows me to love my children and my wife and enjoy the days I have left with them. But I can never escape the horror of what happened to my sister. I can never accept the notion that he can pay for that nightmare with anything less than his life. We all make choices. He made his.
Glenn’s release was denied.
The Vanity Fair interviewer pointed out that there was no way Kelsey could have been expected to protect his sister, who lived in another state at the time. “It’s not rational,” the actor answered. “But it happens anyway. I know a lot of people who’ve lost their siblings and blame themselves.” At the height of his success, Grammer said, when he wrestled with alcohol and cocaine addiction, “That was the time when I could not forgive myself for my sister’s death.” It was many years before he could begin to rid himself of that burden.
Last year Grammer again successfully opposed another appeal from Glenn, although he was convinced for the first time of the killer’s sincere contrition. “I accept that you actually live with remorse every day of your life, but I live with tragedy every day of mine,” Grammer told him via video during the hearing. “I accept your apology. I forgive you. However, I cannot give your release my endorsement. To give that a blessing would be a betrayal of my sister’s life.”
Grammer does see his own life as obviously blessed in other ways, and he has “learned to soldier on” despite the staggering personal losses. “Every one of us is going to experience some terrible loss,” he concluded in the Vanity Fair interview. “I just got a big dose. For every story you hear that’s tragic, there’s another that’s equally tragic or more so. I think you come to look at it as part of life.”
As all of us who have wrestled with it know, forgiveness is no easy process, especially when the trespasses against us are as traumatic as the murder of a loved one; it is a wrenching evolution that can sometimes feel more painful than the wound we suffered, as the spiritual writer Marianne Williamson says. Forgiving oneself is often the most difficult step of all. Kelsey Grammer is living proof of the demands it places on one’s body and soul to commit to that evolution. But the alternative is a living death.
Now 60, Grammer is happily married to a woman named Kayte Walsh, with whom he has two children (he has six in all). “This lovely young woman,” he says, “lit up my world and changed my heart, which was a bit calloused and hardened against a lot of things. And we are good, and I feel young and alive.” I think he has earned that.
(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 4/20/15)

‘American Pie’ and the Day the Music Died

The Washington Post reported last week that, in order to secure the financial future for his wife and children, aging singer Don McLean sold the original 16-page working manuscript for the lyrics to his chart-topping 1972 song “American Pie” for $1.2 million at auction. Somehow this mundane, practical gesture seems a sad but fitting end for a song that lamented the end of an era of cultural innocence.
“American Pie” was inspired partially by the shocking deaths of young rockers Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper in a plane crash in 1959. But it was about much more than “the day the music died,” as one line goes; it rambled on with allusions to everyone from Karl Marx to Charles Manson to Jackie Kennedy to The Beatles. “It was an indescribable photograph of America that I tried to capture in words and music,” said McLean in a catalogue for Christie’s auction house. “Basically in ‘American Pie,’ things are heading in the wrong direction. It is becoming less idyllic. I don’t know whether you consider that wrong or right but it is a morality song in a sense.”
“American Pie is the accessible farewell to the Fifties and Sixties,” wrote Guardian music critic Alexis Petridis, who considered it Bob Dylan Lite. “The chorus is so good that it lets you wallow in the confusion and wistfulness of that moment, and be comforted at the same time.”
I was never a fan. I remember the hit playing incessantly on the radio, and despite its catchy chorus, at 8½-minutes it was well over twice the length of the average radio single and felt even longer. McLean’s other big hit, “Vincent,” an achingly touching ballad about the world’s inability to grasp the genius of Vincent Van Gogh during the troubled painter’s lifetime, was much better lyrically and musically.
But I was very young at that time and had no capacity for nostalgia. It would be a few more years before I got my first sense for how easily important moments and people can slip into the past, lost forever, sometimes before you even realize how much they meant to you. At the time, living in the present was all I understood, and the future seemed limitless and bright. But then I got older.
It’s natural – and not entirely wrong – for every generation to reach an age when it waxes nostalgic about the past and complains that the present is “going to hell in a handbasket,” as my parents used to say. But in his mid-20s at the time, McLean was ahead of the curve in recognizing that things were “heading in the wrong direction.” Now 69, he remains lugubrious about the state of the culture: “I was around in 1970 and now I am around in 2015. There is no poetry and very little romance in anything anymore, so it is really like the last phase of ‘American Pie.’”
That is an overstatement – after all, there are still poetry and romance in the world; you just have to dig through whole strata of cynicism and snark and irony nowadays to find them. But he is correct that our cultural ability to appreciate beauty, romance, and poetry has atrophied, or at least been devalued in what an old friend of mine used to call our Age of Ugliness, and that is a disheartening loss.
In a verse that didn’t make the final cut for the song, McLean falls down on his knees and offers everything he has to give, “if only He would make the music live again.” If only it were that easy; it will take a new generation of artists who value sincerity over oh-so-hip detachment to breathe life back into the culture. McLean has worthy advice to budding songwriters: “Immerse yourself in beautiful music and beautiful lyrics and think about every word you say in a song.”
The music may have died once, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be resurrected.
(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 4/17/15)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

In the Shadow of a Celebrity Dad

Being the child of a celebrity parent is a curse as well as a blessing. Being born into a life of wealth and glamour comes with obvious perks, and many children of celebrities inevitably become insufferable, spoiled brats, particularly if they aren’t blessed with a talent of their own that distinguishes them from their famous parents. But for those who aren’t content to sponge off the money and accomplishments of their parents forever, finding their own way in the world can be especially frustrating.
Imagine, for example, being the son of Tom Hanks, two-time Oscar-winner and arguably the most well-liked actor inside and outside Hollywood. It may seem that being his son is like winning the birth lottery, but how do you carve out your own identity, your own career, your own success when your dad is such a celebrated household name?
One son, Colin, followed in his father’s footsteps to become a fairly successful actor in his own right. But 24-year-old younger brother Chester Hanks, the young man Gawker labeled “a frat boy rapper” who goes by the alias Chet Haze, seems to be floundering at sea.
After radio show host Howard Stern mocked Chet for his rapping ambitions, Chet called Stern out in a Twitter assault last week that read like a blustery attempt to pump up his rapper cred. Here’s a sample of his profane, threatening rant that reeks of affected street slang:
Let me come up on your show b*tch… Come catch this fade… have me live on the air and we can go pound for pound see who looks like the fool you dried up old c*nt catch this fade…
Do you have any idea how badly I am going to assault you when I see you… it’s a shame you don’t hang in the same circles as my family (not enough bread for that) cuz if you did I woulda already seen u.
Taunting Howard Stern for not being rich enough to hang with the Hanks family is pretty comical, considering that Stern’s estimated $550 million net worth is quite a bit more than Tom Hanks’ estimated $350 million. The failed insult also reveals an arrogance about his dad’s money but what also must be a resentfulness – after all, the wealth he boasts about is not his own.
Chet followed up with an unapologetic description of himself as a “WALKING PR DISASTER” who does not “GIVE A SINGLE F*CK!!!!” And then: “I DONT LIVE MY LIFE BY ANYBODYS RULES BUT MY OWN!!!” Methinks the young man doth protest too much. He sounds as if he very much cares about the opinions of others.
This isn’t Chet’s first defensive Twitter feud (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: is there anything in the world more inconsequential than a Twitter feud?). As noted in a Fishwrapper article called, “Sorry, but Tom Hanks Raised a Mega Douche,” Chet got into it back in late 2013 with former rapper Jensen Karp, who tweeted a barb about Chet’s lack of authenticity: “Your dad was in Castaway.” This prompted an angry (but also poignant) response from Chet: “so cuz my Dads famous, I can't do what I want to do in my life?” In the ensuing back-and-forth, Karp offered Chet some blunt, if condescending, advice:
Chet, your father is Tom Hanks. America’s sweetheart. And you’re talking about smoking kush and banging dime pieces. It’s acting… I am actually not hating, I’m trying to help. No one wants to hear the fake black accent from a kid who knows the Spielbergs.
Eminem and others have already proven that being white is certainly no barrier to rap success, but Chet Haze’s bad boy posturing seems to be more an act of rebellion against the expectations placed on him due to his nice guy dad’s name (hence Chet’s name change, for example). If he proves Stern and Karp wrong by earning real success on that route, then more power to him. But I suspect that Chet is still searching for his own authentic road.
Similarly, another would-be rapper – Deion Sanders, Jr., son of the football legend and sports broadcaster who is worth an estimated $40 million – found himself the target of some media ridicule last week when he tweeted something about his life in “the hood.” His famous father playfully but pointedly responded, “you’re a Huxtable with a million $ trust fund stop the hood stuff! Lololol. Son. #Truth.” Huxtable, of course, was the surname of Bill Cosby’s affluent, educated TV family – an association no self-respecting rapper wants.
At the risk of psychoanalyzing Deion Jr. and Chet Haze from afar, my sense is that posturing as rap stars is just a phase for these two. As difficult as it may be to sympathize with celebrity kids who grew up with every comfort and opportunity, Chet and Deion Jr. strike me as two insecure young men struggling to get out from beneath the shadows of their celebrated, accomplished fathers and find their own identities, their own paths in life. It’s a struggle they unfortunately must carry out in the harsh light of the public eye, and they may have to take a few blows in the media such as they did last week before they are humbled enough to reject everyone else’s expectations, search their own hearts, and find their authentic purpose in life.
(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 4/15/15)

Monday, April 6, 2015

Is Variety the Spice of Marriage?

Recently a woman named Robin Rinaldi published The Wild Oats Project: One Woman’s Midlife Quest for Passion at Any Cost, the tale of her one-year experiment with an open marriage in her mid-40s. The result of that experiment highlights an important truth about marriage, fidelity, and sexual intimacy.

Feeling the passion seeping out of her childless marriage, Rinaldi decided to act on her craving for “seduction and sexual abandon” and sow some wild oats. She presented her husband Scott with an ultimatum about experimenting with other, purely sexual, relationships, and he reluctantly agreed. They lived apart during the weekdays, when Rinaldi saw other people; then she returned home on weekends to resume their marriage as if nothing had happened.

But quite a bit did happen. Rinaldi had twelve lovers and oodles of great sex in that year, but her “quest for passion at any cost” cost her her 18-year relationship with Scott. “After you open up a marriage and experience a whole range of sexual variety and aspects of yourself you’ve never had before,” she admits, “it’s hard to put everything back in the box.” No kidding?

Not that leaving him bothered her. She’s “grateful” she “experienced” her marriage, but she moved on to be with one of the partners she met, someone “from whom I can learn more.” [In my experience, people whose focus in a marriage is primarily their own personal growth never stay married – but that’s a topic for another day.]

Back to marital passion, or the lack thereof. In a recent article called “When the Best Sex Is Extramarital,” New York psychotherapist Lawrence Josephs asked, “What do you do when” – like Robin Rinaldi – “the best sex of your life is outside of marriage but you still want the emotional security of a stable long-term relationship with someone you love and trust?” Josephs says he’s worked “with a few couples over the years who have been able to make an open marriage work, but most people… are too insecure and jealous to do so… When it comes to our spouses, it seems most of us never outgrow being fundamentally childlike in our possessiveness.”

Insecure, jealous, childlike? Josephs seems to be suggesting that spouses who aren’t comfortable with their partners’ extramarital promiscuity simply aren’t mature enough to handle it. The implication is that a married couple who are okay with sleeping around are somehow exhibiting more adult behavior than a couple who demonstrate fidelity. The fact is that the vast majority of people believe marriage should be fundamentally a lifelong physical, emotional, and spiritual commitment to one other person, and they’re less than thrilled with the idea of that person finding intimacy and ecstasy with other partners – not because they’re too immature, but because sharing their partner erodes, if not demolishes, a marriage’s foundation of love, trust, respect, and unity.

Yes, marriages fail too much of the time, but pretty much everyone enters into that union under the assumption that their partner is the one. Commitment and fidelity are often put to the test, but that’s what commitment and fidelity mean: staying the course of your vow despite temptations.

And besides, is marital passion necessarily doomed? In another recent article, “Married Sex Gets Better in the Golden Years,” Jan Hoffman refers to a new study which concludes that, for couples who do hang in there, there is a payoff. While sexual activity among most long-married couples reportedly declines steadily over the years, those married more than 50 years reported an uptick in their sex lives – and the frequency continued to improve.

Samuel Stroope, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of sociology at L.S.U., said that in a long marriage, sexuality suffers from “habituation,” the familiarity that can dull a couple’s desire over time. At the same time, however, long-timers accumulate valuable “relationship capital.” In good marriages, he said, you’re “accumulating experience and knowledge about your intimate partner over time that builds on itself.” That leads to more intimacy, more meaningful sex.

Gerontologist Dr. Karl Pillemer, whose new book 30 Lessons for Loving is drawn from 700 interviews, discovered that older adults “place intimacy as a high priority.” He cites the example of Jennie B., now an 82-year-old widow who married her first and only husband when they were in their mid-20s, and were sexually active through their 47 married years before his death in 2003. Jennie explained,

There’s an intimacy that comes later that is staggeringly wonderful. You can hold hands with this person you love and adore, and somehow it’s just as passionate as having sex at an earlier age. There is such a sense of connection and intimacy that grows out of a long relationship, that touch carries with it the weight of so many memories. And many are sexual.

Indeed what she misses most as a widow, she says, is holding hands. “Sex was certainly an important and joyful and healing part, but I’m not sure that the connection through holding hands, which elicited such peace, was not a deeper intimacy,” she wondered.

Sex is a vital part of our humanity and our relationships. But more meaningful, and more human, is the intimacy that grows through a longstanding monogamous commitment – and sex is only one strand of that powerful bond.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 4/1/15)