Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Monday, July 3rd, 2006.


Super Film Review

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entertainment and popular culture

Some of the blog guys are in disagreement over the new Superman film. Oliver Willis liked it and gave it 4/4 stars. Ezra Klein disagrees. I saw it yesterday and am voting with Oliver on this one. I was thoroughly entertained. It’s especially fun to watch on an IMAX screen; some scenes are in 3D. Way cool.

It can be argued that the film is more of a romantic fantasy and less of a comic-book action-adventure epic than some might like, although there are plenty of action sequences. Some reviewers argued that the colors were too muted — the cape was more dark mauve than red, for example — but I agree with Stephanie Zacharek’s review in Salon (and I don’t agree with Zacharek all that often) —

This is a beautifully made picture, a modern-day fable marked by a strong sense of continuity with the past, and not just the recent past: The art-deco-influenced production design, the lighting, and some of the camera work carry echoes of German Expressionism. The costumes (they’re by Louise Mingenbach) are ’40s movie-star garb filtered through a ’70s sensibility — a way of honoring the sartorial vibe of Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder in the earlier movies, and also of tracing the Superman story to its just-pre-World War II roots. When Kate Bosworth, as Lois Lane, changes out of her Rosalind Russell tweed suit to attend the dinner at which she’ll be awarded a Pulitzer Prize (her winning essay bears the title, transparently redolent of heartbreak, “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman”), her dress is a full-length ripple of dark silk worthy of Barbara Stanwyck circa “The Lady Eve.” Unlike so many contemporary Hollywood movies, which strut into our theaters as if they believe they’ve sprung fully formed from the head of Zeus (or maybe even just Scott Rudin), “Superman Returns” knows where it comes from.

Maybe the film’s style is a girl and/or gay thing.

Kate Bosworth’s portrayal of Lois Lane was panned in some reviews, but as one of the few people on the planet who didn’t care for Margot Kidder in the earlier films — she mostly got on my nerves — I was OK with Bosworth. Poor Brandon Routh had the perilous job of following the beloved Christopher Reeve, but I think he managed as well as anyone could have. The best part of Reeve’s portrayal of Superman, IMO, was the way he could shift personas from Clark Kent to Superman while barely moving a muscle, and Routh didn’t quite capture that. On the other hand, Routh’s Superman persona was more emotionally vulnerable than Reeve’s, which hinted at a more complex personality under the surface. And Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor is a hoot.

Update: See also Detroit Free Press review, Newsweek review.

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Dear Media, Part II: The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy

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conservatism, News Media

Several commenters to Dear Media, Part I pointed to corporate ownership of media as the cause of media corruption. Corporate ownership certainly is an important factor, but the situation is more complex than that. And worse.

Don Hazen provides a glimpse of the bigger problem we’re up against:

Consider that the conservative political movement, which now has a hammerlock on every aspect of federal government, has a media message machine fed by more than 80 large non-profit organizations – let’s call them the Big 80 – funded by a gaggle of right-wing family foundations and wealthy individuals to the tune of $400 million a year.

And the Big 80 groups are just the “non-partisan” 501(c)(3) groups. These do not include groups like the NRA, the anti-gay and anti-abortion groups, nor do they include the political action committees (PACs) or the “527” groups (so named for the section of the tax code they fall under), like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which so effectively slammed John Kerry’s campaign in 2004.

To get their message out, the conservatives have a powerful media empire, which churns out and amplifies the message of the day – or the week – through a wide network of outlets and individuals, including Fox News, talk radio, Rush Limbaugh, Oliver North, Ann Coulter, as well as religious broadcasters like Pat Robertson and his 700 Club. On the web, it starts with TownHall.com

Fueling the conservative message machine with a steady flow of cash is a large group of wealthy individuals, including many who serve on the boards of the Big 80.

Needless to say, there’s not exactly a wall of separation between the right-wing media machine and corporate media managers, although it’s hard to say if media-VRWC relationships are primarily ideological or financial. In the case of the big publicly owned companies, sooner or later profits will trump all, I suspect. According to OpenSecrets.org reveals that many of the parent corporations, such as Time Warner (CNN, Time), General Electric (NBC, Newsweek), Disney (ABC), and CBS, donate more money overall to Democrats than to Republicans. On the other hand, and not surprisingly, News Corporation (Fox), the National Association of Broadcasters (an industry group representing commercial radio and television stations), and Clear Channel donate more to Republicans than to Democrats.

But if ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN, and their various print affiliates aren’t altogether in bed with the Right, why does right-wing ideology permeate so much of the news they produce? As explained here,

There is an important dynamic relationship between right-wing alternative media and the corporate media. Many of the conceptual frameworks and arguments used to marginalize left and liberal ideas in the media are first developed at think tanks funded by right-wing foundations and corporations. After these ideas are sharpened through feedback at conferences and other meetings, they are cooperatively field-tested within right-wing alternative media such as small-circulation newsletters and journals, and also by tracking responses to rhetoric in direct mail appeals. As popular themes that resonate with conservative audiences emerge, they are moved into more mainstream corporate media through columns by conservative luminaries, press releases picked up as articles in the print media, conversations on radio talk shows, and discussions on TV news roundtables.

Once the talking points are developed, right-wing operatives make sure the talking points permeate mass media. This Media Matters report shows how right-wing spin dominates Iraq War news and debate throughout mass media, for example.

And who are the operatives? A lot of them are grown in VRWC laboratories. In his book Lapdogs, Eric Boehlert describes the petrie dish Ann Coulter crawled out of:

Coulter wasn’t merely a controversial pundit; she was a pure product of the Beltway’s right-wing culture and career track. Coulter put in time clerking for Pasco Bowman II of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, litigated for the Center For Individual Rights, a right-wing advocacy group, and worked as a flak for Michigan Republican Senator Spencer Abraham. She then went on to write High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton; Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right; and Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism. [p. 113]

Several of Coulter’s books were published by Regnery, which has been accused of “promoting” books by arranging bulk purchases to push up sales figures and place books on best-seller charts. The authors then make the rounds of talk shows, repeating the books’ propaganda points as they go. Whether anyone actually reads the books is not really the point. Recently, other major book publishers have begun to publish for the right-wing market. Coulter’s most recent book, which has come under accusations of plagiarism, was published by Random House.

Thus Coulter, who had never exhibited so much as a spark of insight, wit, originality, or intelligence, is promoted to mass media prominence by the VRWC.

And this is something the Right does very well. It finds “talent,” or whatever it is about Coulter they find valuable, and mentors, grooms, and promotes that talent and gets it in front of the public. The Left? Fuhgeddaboudit.

The Right began to build its think tank-media infrastructure in the 1970s, This was, as I explained in the previous post, the same time that the Left was coming apart.

The story of the conservative rise that Stein portrays begins back in the early 1970s, when there was panic among conservatives, especially in corporate boardrooms, that capitalism was under serious attack, and something drastic had to be done about it. …

… The conservative right, starting with seed money from the Coors Brewing family and Richard Mellon Scaife’s publishing enterprise, moved forward … conservatives – in spite of political differences, ego, and competing priorities – were able to cooperate and develop a methodology that drives their issues and values relentlessly.

Starting with just a handful or groups, including the Heritage Foundation, in the early ’70s, the conservatives built a new generation of organizations – think tanks, media monitors, legal groups, networking organizations, all driven by the same over-arching values of free enterprise, individual freedoms and limited government.

Hazen goes on to explain that various right-wing organizations work together to provide each other with speakers, guest “pundits,” and other resources. They also, apparently, work closely with producers of mainstream mass media talk shows on radio and television to provide bodies to staff the “roundtables” and other guest spots the programs need to fill.

And what are liberals and progressives doing to compete? As I explained here, not nearly enough.

Rightie media infrastructure isn’t the only reason why media is screwed up, however. More will be discussed in Part III.

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Reactionaries

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big picture stuff, conservatism, liberalism and progressivism

A commenter who labels himself “r4d20” left comments to the “Being Liberal Doesn’t Mean Being a Patsy” post, here and here, and I want to answer these comments at length because the writer brings up some important points. Beginning with:

Not to be a pendant, but the first step in elevating the culture is to at least get some terms more specific than “righties/lefties”, or “the right/the left”. I understand that its a quick and easy reference point, but I think that excessive use of generalities does interfere with clear thought.

I am a big proponent of using words and phrases with precision, but in our current political culture attempts to define various factions by standard political nomenclature will fail, IMO, because the partisan forces tearing us apart are not fundamentally political forces, but cultural ones.

Once upon a time I referred to righties as “conservatives,” because that’s what they called themselves, but whether they are or are not conservative depends a whole lot on how you define conservative. And that’s a perilous thing to do, because if you go by the bare-bones dictionary definition, “One who strongly favors retention of the existing order; orthodox, traditionalist, etc.,” the next thing you have to do is figure out what “existing order” is to be retained, and that can change over time and from place to place.

According to The Reader’s Companion to American History (Eric Foner and John Garraty, eds. Houghon Mifflin, 1991),

A uniquely American form of conservatism first arose in opposition to the nation’s sense of boundless optimism about human nature under democracy. And for roughly the first two hundred years of the Republic, conservatism was defined politically and culturally by its fears of the political excesses, economic egalitarianism, and cultural vulgarity generated by a democratic society shorn of any aristocratic restraints.

This is from an excellent overview of conservatism in America by Fred Siegel that can be found on this page, but you have to scroll down to get to it. It’s under the “American History” heading, and begins “The Reagan presidency has been hailed as the high point of twentieth-century American conservatism.” To understand fully where I’m coming from here it would be helpful to read the whole thing, but I’m just going to quote a little more, skipping to the 1920s —

According to what came to be known as “constitutional morality,” legislation supporting the right to unionize or limiting children’s working hours was an un-American form of group privilege. Laissez-faire conservatism reached its intellectual apogee in the 1920s. A critic complained that by 1924 you didn’t have to be a radical to be denounced as un-American: “according to the lights of Constitution worship you are no less a Red if you seek change through the very channels which the Constitution itself provides.”

In Europe conservatism was based on hereditary classes; in America it was based on hereditary religious, ethnic, and racial groups. The GOP, a largely Protestant party, looked upon itself as the manifestation of the divine creed of Americanism revealed through the Constitution. To be a conservative, then, was to share in a religiously ordained vision of a largely stateless society of self-regulating individuals. This civil religion, preached by President Herbert Hoover, was shattered by the Great Depression and the usurpation of the government by an “alien” power, Franklin D. Roosevelt, in league with “un-American,” that is, unexceptionalist ideas.

Conservatives were traumatized by their fall from grace. Diminished in place and prestige, they consoled themselves with bizarre conspiracy theories and cranky accusations of communist infiltration. Overwhelmed and resentful, they did not so much address the disaster of the depression as yearn for the days when they were able to run their towns, their businesses, and their workers in the manner to which they had been accustomed. Then, in 1940, just when it seemed they had Roosevelt on the ropes, World War II revived and extended his presidency.

At war’s end conservatives unleashed their frustrations. On the one hand, postwar popular conservatism was based on an anticommunist hysteria that antedated the antics of Senator Joe McCarthy. Politics for the McCarthyites was not so much a matter of pursuing material interests as a national screen on which to project their deepest cultural fears.

From here, Siegel goes on to describe the conservative political revival that began with Barry Goldwater’s presidential bid in 1964 and the conservative intellectuals and activists of the 1960s who called for a “restoration” of pre-New Deal America.

But this new conservatism did not so much win the country over to its perspective as board the empty ship of state vacated by a 1960s liberalism that had self-destructed. Conservatism triumphed because New Deal liberalism was unable to accommodate the new cultural and political demands unleashed by the civil rights revolution, feminism, and the counterculture, all of which was exacerbated by the Kulturkampf over Vietnam.

I agree with Siegel that New Deal liberalism, along with the New Left, had self-destructed by the 1970s, although the New Deal itself has yet to be entirely dismantled. But while “identity politics” and other factors splintered liberalism into thousands of ineffectual pieces, the Right got its act together. Some extremely wealthy right-wingers — Richard Mellon Scaife, Joseph Coors, Lynde and Harry Bradley, and Smith Richardson, among others — provided the seed money for the mighty right-wing think tank-media infrastructure, which you can read more about here. This infrastructure has put control of most of the federal government and news media safely in right-wing hands.

Yet, weirdly, the Right continues behave as if it is a desperate fight against a mythical “liberal elite” that runs everything, in spite of the fact that it doesn’t exist, and that progressivism itself has been cast out of power and left wandering in the wilderness for at least 40 years.

Today you’ve got the “social” conservatives, who want to return to 19th-century cultural mores; the “free market” conservatives, who want to return to the Gilded Age; the “Christian” conservatives who want to return to a theocratic America that never actually existed except in their imaginations; and the neoconservatives, who have taken the notions of American exceptionalism to new and more demented heights. And variations thereof.

Somehow these diverse groups have formed a coalition they label “conservative”, in spite of the fact that they advance contradictory agendas. Contemporary conservatism, for example, advocates restricting civil liberties in the name of freedom and extols small government while building the mightiest military-industrial complex the world has ever seen. About the only thing the various elements of the coalition have in common is that they all hate liberals, meaning not actual liberals but a cartoon straw man that represents liberalism in their minds, but which has little resemblance to those of us who are still foolish enough to call ourselves “liberals” in spite of the fact that we’re asking to be rounded up and shipped out on the first bus to the re-education camps.

This conservatism, IMO, isn’t all that conservative. It’s far more radical, revolutionary even, to label conservative. I think reactionary gets closer to it, although the standard dictionary definition of reactionaries — people who vehemently, often fanatically oppose progress and favor return to a previous condition — only works up to a point. Aggressive imperialism is a bit hard to square with returning to a “previous condition,” for example. To make that work you need to understand their urge to impose American hegemony on the rest of the world as a pro-active isolationism — eliminating the “threat” of foreignness by gettin’ it before it gets us.

In other ways, of course, reactionary works quite well — the stubborn refusal to admit that global warming is really happening, for example.

But ultimately, to paraphrase Siegel, I think the current American Right is all about politics as a national screen on which to project their deepest cultural fears.

And, since we’ve got to call these people something, I say “rightie” works as well as anything else.

In its extreme forms, rightieness is just hate. I mean, what are Michelle Malkin’s or Ann Coulter’s political principles, other than that they hate large groups of people that they associate with “the Left”? The hate comes first; whatever political principles they claim were adopted as props to justify the hate.

The commenter r4d20 continues,

While I choose to register Republican, like many/most people I straddle the line, which means that hardcore lefties call me “right” and hardcore righties call me “left”. According to the current ‘talking points’ I am both a jingoistic warmonger, and a pro-’Al Queda’ traitor – but at least both agree I should be shot 🙂 .

Even as a “Rightie” I have more in common with a “moderate” leftie than with a Christian Conservative. As a “leftie” I have more in common with a moderate rightie than with almost any Anarchist or Socialist.

Yet, somehow, politics on the blogosphere has divided itself fairly neatly into “right” and “left” camps, and all (except, these days, the purer libertarians) know extinctively in which camp they and everyone else should be sorted.

Here on the Left Blogosphere, you’d have a hard time finding an anarchist or genuinely socialist blogger. Most of us bloggers are the political heirs of New Deal Democrats. Most of us hold political positions that would have been considered “centrist” or even moderately conservative years ago. Yet today we’re painted as a radical “leftie” fringe utterly beyond the pale of decent, Gawd-fearing American politics. Much of the Right Blogosphere has utterly slipped its tether to reality, yet it gets called “centrist.”

And these days, a “moderate” is someone who doesn’t know what the hell is going on. If you want to preserve long-established American political processes, if you believe in the rule of law and the Bill of Rights and separation of powers and all that old stuff, you’re a leftie. Unless you just say you believe in those things even while you are trying to destroy them, which would make you a rightie.

But if the moderates on each side have been conditioned to think of all the people on the “other side” as extremist stereotypes then they will naturally choose the extremists of their own side over those of the other. The only winners are the wingnuts who maintain their support out of hyped-up fear of possible doomsday alternatives.

Yes, but the wingnuts really are going to bring about doomsday if we don’t stop them. Fence-straddling is not a sustainable position these days.

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