Monday, August 31, 2009

Sneaking out to the Ritz

On August 29, 2009, Senator Edward M. Kennedy was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. His passing marks the last of a generation of Kennedys that was instrumental in shaping American politics in the 20th Century.

A private memorial service was held on Friday, August 28 at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. The service was televised, and the Fox News Channel ran commercial-free coverage for three hours.

How was the event characterized? In Maryland, CBS affiliate WJZ ran a story with the caption, “Political Luminaries Gather to Celebrate Kennedy.” The Boston Globe ran the headline, “Powerful gather in homage, gratitude.” Within the Boston Globe story was this line of analysis: “But the diverse contingent who have come to Boston reflects a bipartisan respect that perhaps no other public figure could claim.”

If you watched the memorial service you were able to see “the diverse contingent” and the “the bipartisan respect.” The theme was that this was America: the rich and the poor, the young and the old. We were watching Americans pay tribute.

The only problem with the picture was that there were no Republicans.

Well, let me modify that. There were in fact some Republicans on hand. Amongst the several hundred people in attendance was Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, husband of Maria Shriver, along with two other Republicans: Senators John McCain and Orrin Hatch. The two Senators each spoke of their friendship with Senator Kennedy, with Senator McCain coming across (unfortunately) as someone being “used.”

Senator McCain told stories of how he was charmed by the personal favors extended to him by Senator Kennedy. His presentation mirrored earlier remarks he had made to news outlets, and gave the impression that he might have a tendency to compromise his principles to maintain a spirit of collegiality. There was one slight gaffe at the conclusion of his speech as he exited the stage away from Vicki Reggie Kennedy, widow of Senator Kennedy. He seemed to wish to avoid her embrace of thanks.

Senator Hatch appeared to be quirky and a bit overly-religious. He told of how Senator Kennedy had helped him get a Mormon Temple built in Massachusetts, complete with the angel Moroni at the top of its spire. It showcased Senator Hatch’s dedication to his church, but seemed out-of-place in this setting.

All-in-all, the Republican presence was a counterpoint to the eloquence of the other speakers. The contributions of the Republicans were perfunctory and off-key.

Those characterizations might seem abrasive, but that is what came across. This was a gathering of Americans, and the Republicans amongst them were oddballs. What one noted from the service was the unanimity of spirit of the non-Republicans. Not surprisingly, they all felt the same way about health care and climate change. Could all of this have been scripted? Was there a defined purpose behind the broadcast of this “private” affair?

Take away the few Republicans at the service, and you had a gathering of Democrats celebrating the principles of the Democratic Party. Yet we are encouraged to believe that this is “America”. Our culture portrays this as Americans “just acting naturally.”

The theme of the memorial service was that Senator Kennedy was a person who did what was right for America, while being a good family man and a citizen of the world. Vice President Biden related how Senator Kennedy had gotten him into the Senate, and then helped him get important committee assignments and meet important political figures. Others told similar stories of how Senator Kennedy helped them to achieve their life goals. What emerged was a portrait of a Senator whose life work was to increase the power and authority of the Democratic Party. Senator Kennedy used his considerable charms to enhance the political influence of others.

The stories of power and influence were balanced with stories of whimsy and fun, showing that the Senator did not carry his theatrics beyond the Senate floor. Once the business of promoting the Democratic Party was not in play, he was just a “regular guy.”

I thought the spell was broken for a few seconds when Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg told the story of the Senator taking his clan on a camping trip to Thompson Island in Dorchester Bay (just southeast of Boston). She talked about the oppressive heat, bugs, and noise from Logan International Airport, and noted that Senator Kennedy put up with it for a time, and then “…snuck off to the Ritz.”

It was a family story, and one that appeared to be off the cuff. But those of us watching noted that Senator Kennedy didn’t sneak off to a Holiday Inn. He went to the Ritz Carlton, Boston Common. It is not a location that makes one think of “common folk.” Rather, it is the mark of a privileged politician who turns the theatrical flair on and off and happily attends to his personal comforts. For just a moment, Mrs. Schlossberg forgot about the external audience that was watching, and told a story that was tailored for the sensibilities of those in attendance.

Our culture might have promoted this “private” service as a simple gathering of Americans, but this event might more accurately be characterized as a gathering of the very wealthy, along with their families, supporters and key staff members. Was it bipartisan?

I didn’t hear any announcer remark, “This is a diverse group of people, but there sure aren’t many damned Republicans!”

And that’s the point: Our culture sees America as a nation that doesn’t include many damned Republicans.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Intellectual Honesty

The New York Times recently ran a story about Yale University Press practicing self-censorship in publishing a book by Jytte Klausen (due out in November, 2009).

Ms. Klausen’s book, The Cartoons that Shook the World, was to include pictures of the twelve Danish cartoons that resulted in rioting and protests in the Middle East in 2006. For reasons detailed in the New York Times story, the cartoons and other representations of the Islam Prophet Mohammed were withdrawn.

The Yale University motto beneath its crest is “Lux et Veritas” (Light and Truth). It’s ironic that an organization devoted to academic freedom censors itself.

I thought of that in the context of the recent cartoon controversy here in America. A college student from Chicago created a cartoon from an image of President Obama and it became an online sensation.

The cartoon was a takeoff of Heath Ledger’s character (The Joker) in The Dark Night. It was similar to another cartoon that appeared online at vanityfair.com. Here are the cartoons, along with a picture of Heath Ledger in character:



The cartoon of President Obama is the work of Firas Alkhateeb. The cartoon of President Bush is by Drew Friedman and was posted in July of 2008 at vanityfair.com.
What’s fascinating about the cartoons is the public’s reaction to them. The cartoon of President Bush was “no big deal,” but when the cartoon of President Obama became public, the reaction was OUTRAGE!
The Los Angeles. Times ran a story about the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable. Its president, Earl Ofari Hutchinson, characterized the cartoon as mean-spirited and dangerous. Mr. Hutchinson challenged the responsible party to come forward.
The Orlando Sentinel covered a story about police in Clermont, Florida interviewing a suspect accused of putting up posters of the cartoon. The police were investigating whether any local or federal crimes were committed.
The narrative associated with the posters is that these are further examples of racist Republicans doing provocative and inappropriate acts. When it was determined that Mr. Alkhateeb was not a Republican, Mr. Alkhateeb was characterized as a misfit and the story quickly died.
So what’s the point?
A recurring theme in our culture is that a disparaging piece of art about a Republican is to be expected, while the same depiction of a non-Republican is an OUTRAGE! When President Bush was in office, two separate works portrayed his assassination as art. One was the fictional documentary Death of a President that told of the assassination of President Bush on October 19, 2007.
Another was Checkpoint: A Novel. If you click on the hotlink and scroll down, you can read reviews of the novel by various newspapers around the country. I like the one from USA Today that describes the work as “a passionate cry from the heart”.
Contrast this treatment with a recent story from the British publication Times Online. It has to do with the following cartoon:

This cartoon is by Sean Delonas and appeared in the New York Post. It links a Congressional action with a tragedy in Stamford, Connecticut. The parties involved are not Republicans.

What’s the reaction to this cartoon? It’s not anything like the reviews of Checkpoint. Rather, it’s an apology from Rupert Murdoch, Chairman of the New York Post.

Dwell on that for a moment: Praise vs. Apology.

At some point, academic scholars are going to become interested in the cultural treatment of Republicans in America. The Internet makes it easy to compare and contrast the characterizations, and the information is abundant.

Getting back to the issue at the start of this post, I think it’s a pretty good bet that when it comes time to get the anti-Republican culture story into print, the publisher will not be Yale University Press.
Yale University Press practices self-censorship.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A McCarthy Moment

CNN reported on Monday, August 24, 2009, that Attorney General Eric Holder has expanded the role of federal prosecutor John Durham.

Mr. Durham had been investigating CIA interrogations of detainees in overseas locations who were suspected of engaging in terrorist activities. He now will be looking for evidence that the interrogations were illegal.

Do your antennae go up?

Think back to the 1950s, when a Senator from Wisconsin began investigating the State Department, searching for communists. Fast-forward 50 years. We now have a prosecutor investigating the Central Intelligence Agency, searching for torturers.

I imagine we will all be hearing the term “witch hunt” thrown around a bit while the investigation takes place. The idea of searching to see if a crime has been committed is typically an idea with political overtones.

What is to be gained?

It seems that the main hope of the investigation is to discredit high-profile Republicans. These are the people who made decisions based on the substance of the problem, not the political consequences. They will be characterized as “torturers on stilts.”

Maybe there will be some collateral damage visited upon these people, with obstruction of justice or perjury charges brought forward. But be on the lookout for some “McCarthy-like” consequences.

Our anti-Republican culture has its roots in the legal and educational systems in America, as well as the entertainment industry and federal agencies. The idea that Republicans are dictating the methods used by the CIA will not go far in an agency dominated by non-Republicans. There will be major risk to non-Republicans, and that is when the investigation will stop.

In the meantime, the fireworks should be interesting. Here in Denver, we had a witch hunt of sorts over some vandalism to a local Democratic Party headquarters building. The search for the Republican perpetrators came to an abrupt end when the primary suspect turned out to be a Democratic Party activist.

That may be a shorthand version of what is set to take place at the CIA. The search for meaning to the word “torture” and punishment for those who employ it (knowingly or mistakenly) will have merit only so long as it disparages Republicans.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Julie & Julia

Have you seen the new movie about Julia Child? It stars Meryl Streep as Julia, and is written and directed by Nora Ephron. It just opened this past weekend (8/7/2009).

My wife loves to cook. She gets her kitchen tools from Williams-Sonoma Cookware, her oil and vinegar from Katz and Company, and follows instructions given by Ina Garten and Michael Chiarello. For us, this movie was a “must-see.”

How does this movie make its way onto a blog about anti-Republican culture? You will have to see it to get the full effect, but here are some hints…

--There is a wedding scene, where Julia’s sister gets married. In the scene, the obnoxious relative is a Republican.

--Julie Powell, the person played by Amy Adams, plays hooky from work and is confronted by her boss. He says something to the effect that, “If I were a Republican, I would have to fire you.”

--Paul Child, Julia’s husband (played by Stanley Tucci), is caught up in the McCarthy hearings of the early 1950s. He faces what appears to be a panel of Republican Congressmen in a windowless room, where they inquire as to whether or not he is “a homosexual.”

I don’t think you will see a reference to these scenes in any reviews of the movie. They are meant to be a backdrop; a landscape for the movie.

But they are there, and they are purposeful.

It makes me think of the caricatures that our entertainment industry has profiled over the years. We had Amos ‘n’ Andy, with the na├»ve Amos and the gullible Andy representing the way people with dark skin live. We had I love Lucy, with Lucille Ball showing women behaving in a ditzy fashion.

Over the years, our entertainment industry has become a bit more sensitive in exploiting caricatures of human beings. However, that sensitivity now has a political agenda.

What is the message we see in Julie & Julia? The wedding scene shows us that Republicans are inappropriate and obnoxious. The scene with Julie confronted by her boss shows that Republicans are mean-spirited and vindictive. The Joseph McCarthy inquisition scene displays Republicans as bigoted and homophobic.

It takes something away from the entertainment value of the movie, but yes, Ms. Ephron, we get the message.

UPDATE 1
Thanks, Stacy!

UPDATE 2
Over at GayPatriot, Dan has an earlier and more comprehensive review of the film, noting the "gratuitous slap against Republicans."

UPDATE 6/20/2012:
Douglas MacKinnon writing for The Wall Street Journal (may be behind the paywall) confronts the issue in the context of HBO's "Game of Thrones."  From his article:

The latest example of this comes from the HBO network and its series "Game of Thrones." In one episode, the face of President George W. Bush appeared on a head impaled upon a stake. How proud those filmmakers must have been over their sandbox-like prank.

This type of immature behavior has not only become the norm in Hollywood, many times it's expected. It's almost as if there is an unacknowledged pressure to work in at least one totally out-of-context insult of the GOP or a conservative cause. I could list hundreds of movies and television shows which take these shots but will limit the examples to a few.

Go back and look at the 1983 John Landis movie "Trading Places"—in my opinion, a very well made and very entertaining movie. Except that Landis and company could not resist the chance to take a free shot at Republicans. On the walls and on the desks of the morally bankrupt and even racist Duke brothers are pictures of Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, Dwight Eisenhower and other GOP presidents. This dig added zero to a good film, but Mr. Landis obviously could not resist.

Fast forward to the 1996 movie "My Fellow Americans," starring James Garner and Jack Lemmon. Another fun if underperforming flick. In the middle of this movie, for no reason other than that the writers could, is a quip that comes as a fictional former president (played by Jack Lemmon) is stealing vodka from a hotel minibar. Don't do that, says his wife (played by Lauren Bacall). "It's so George Bush." What a zinger. Bravo.

Staying with the Bush-bashing theme in Hollywood, we can jump to the first "Transformers" movie, released in 2007. Again, only because they could, the filmmakers took a gratuitous shot at then-President George W. Bush by showing him lying in bed on Air Force One wearing bright-red socks and asking a flight attendant to "Wrangle me up some Ding Dongs, darling."

Yes, anti-Republican caricatures continue to be popular in our culture.

UPDATE 6/26/2012:
Nora Ephron has died.

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