Self-Identity: the Gluten of Sexual Politics

Students at a high school, Hillsboro, in Missouri, walked out today to protest the school board’s decision to allow Lila Perry, a boy who “self-identifies” as a girl, to use the girls’ washrooms and change-rooms.

Not everyone was against.  Apparently some protested the protest.

I have very mixed feelings.  Firstly, the whole transgender thing is getting goofy and ridiculous.  There are a very, very small number of people who genuinely possess ambiguous genitalia, or who might possess a genuinely ambiguous sexual identity.  They have a genuine need and a right to make choices about their sexual identity, however complicated that might be.   And there are a very, very small number of people who, anomalously, really do have the wrong genitalia.  I think this is a very small number.  Very small.

And then there are a lot of people– not really that many, but a lot– who take it into their heads that they would really rather be the other gender.  And a lot of people out there associate this with homosexuality, which everyone knows is something you are born with, and who therefore decide to be as tolerant as possible and announce that from now on people should be treated as whatever gender they wish to be.

Here’s some facts: the vast majority of these people are males wishing to “identify” as female.  The vast majority of these people maintain their sexual orientation after they have transitioned.  If they were sexually attracted to girls before the surgeries and injections they remain sexually attracted to girls after.  If they were sexually attracted to boys before the surgeries, they remain attracted to boys.

So Lila, now permitted to change in the girls’ locker room, should enjoy herself tremendously.  Unless, Lila, as a boy, was already attracted to boys.  In other words, gay.  In which case, he probably should be in the girls’ locker room anyway.

It is totally predictable that the opinion of the psycho-social establishment will favor the idea that many people really are the wrong gender and need to be helped and supported in transitioning to their “real” gender.   It is predictable not because it is likely to be true but because it is likely to be “psychological” in the sense that it is something that can be uncovered and analyzed and tested and diagnosed and packaged and sold to the public as privileged information that only experts can provide.

It is something that can never be disproved because it can never be proven.  How would you go about proving that a boy is a boy?  What standards would you use?  Would it not be enough, given the assumptions in the field of psychology, for the boy say he wants to be a girl?  If you want to investigate it further, see if he has an array of “symptoms”, all of which might also be indications of a troubled, confused child who is obsessed with a really strange idea.




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The State Solemnly Requests That you Die: it is your duty.

 To preserve one’s life is generally speaking a duty, but it may be the plainest and the highest duty to sacrifice it.  War is full of  instances in which it is a man’s duty not to live, but to die.  The duty, in case of shipwreck, of a captain to his crew, of the crew to the passengers, of soldiers to women and children, as in the noble case of the Birkenhead; these duties impose on men the moral necessity, not of the preservations but of the sacrifice of their lives for others, from which in no country, least of all, it is to be hoped, in England, will men ever shrink as indeed, they have not shrunk.  It is not correct, therefore, to say that there is any absolute or unqualified necessity to preserve one’s life.  “Necesse est ut eam, non ut vivam,” is a saying of a Roman officer quoted by Lord Bacon himself with high eulogy in the very chapter on necessity to which so much reference has been made.  It would be a very easy and cheap display of commonplace learning to quote from Greek and Latin authors, from Horace, from Juvenal, from Cicero, from Euripides, passage after passages, in which the duty of dying for others has been laid down in glowing and emphatic language as resulting from the principles of heathen ethics; it is enough in a Christian country to remind ourselves of the Great Example whom we profess to follow.  It is not needful to point out the awful danger of admitting the principle which has been contended for.  Who is to be the judge of this sort of necessity?  By what measure is the comparative value of lives to be measured?  Is it to be strength, or intellect, or what ? It is plain that the principle leaves to him who is to profit by it to determine the necessity which will justify him in deliberately taking another’s life to save his own.  In this case the weakest, the youngest, the most unresisting, was chosen.  Was it more [p. 288] necessary to kill him than one of the grown men?  The answer must be “No” -

“So spake the Fiend, and with necessity,
The tyrant’s plea, excused his devilish deeds.”
It is not suggested that in this particular case the deeds were devilish, but it is quite plain that such a principle once admitted might be made the legal cloak for unbridled passion and atrocious crime.  There is no safe path for judges to tread but to ascertain the law to the best of their ability and to declare it according to their judgment; and if in any case the law appears to be too severe on individuals, to leave it to the Sovereign to exercise that prerogative of mercy which the Constitution has intrusted to the hands fittest to dispense it.

It must not be supposed that in refusing to admit temptation to be an excuse for crime it is forgotten how terrible the temptation was; how awful the suffering; how hard in such trials to keep the judgment straight and the conduct pure.  We are often compelled to set up standards we cannot reach ourselves, and to lay down rules which we could not ourselves satisfy.  But a man has no right to declare temptation to be an excuse, though he might himself have yielded to it, nor allow compassion for the criminal to change or weaken in any manner the legal definition of the crime.  It is therefore our duty to declare that the prisoners’ act in this case was wilful murder, that the facts as stated in the verdict are no legal justification of the homicide; and to say that in our unanimous opinion the prisoners are upon this special verdict guilty, of murder. [n. 1]

THE COURT then proceeded to pass sentence of death upon the prisoners. [n. 2]

The above statement is from the court ruling on the case of The Queen Vs. Dudley and Stevens (1884).  It’s a very famous ruling, and taught in law school.  At issue is the question of whether a person, confronted by inevitable death, may break the law in order to save his own life.

No one disputes the basic facts: the men in the lifeboat were all going to die if they did not eat.   There was nothing to eat, except a man, and they choose the weakest and most vulnerable to kill and eat.  Richard Parker, the cabin boy, had fallen into a coma, partly, probably, from drinking sea water.   Euphemisms abound in the retelling of this case, but let’s dispense with them: they killed and ate Richard Parker to save their own lives.

The men, Captain Tom Dudley, Edwin Stephens; and Edmund Brooks, were saved by a German ship and returned to England where they, believing themselves to be fully justified, made no effort to hide what they had done.  It is safe to say that they assumed everyone would understand and sympathize with their motivations.  I doubt they would have formulated it so carefully, but they essentially argued that a man’s first duty is to save his own life.  They professed horror, but, well it had to be done.  You can see that, can’t you?

In a world full of people determined to get other people to kill for them, they could not have imagined how utterly subversive the idea was.

They were arrested and tried for murder, and sentenced to death.  That lengthy quote at the beginning of this post is from the ruling by a panel of judges who heard the case after what can only be described a series of shenanigans by Baron Huddleston who was determined to get convictions, though public opinion was decidedly in favor of the sailors.

It appears to me that he tricked the jurors into believing they were finding the defendants not guilty, by forcing them to make no ruling.  Instead, through a technicality, they inadvertently allowed the judge to make whatever ruling he wanted.

Richard Parker, 17-years-old, was the cabin boy, and had no experience sailing.

There something obscene about this idea, that it is a honor to give up your own life for others.  The obscenity lies in the fact that this is not a selfless gesture: it would be really great if you would die for me.

A devout Christian with a certain orientation might buy it: your reward will be in heaven so the person asking you to die for them is not really as selfish as all that.

I leave aside the issue of Richard Parker, for a moment.  Huddleston had one legitimate point: by what principle do the men select someone in a coma to die for their benefit?  There have been similar situations in which all of the men agreed to a procedure by which one of them is selected to die and be eaten.   But I want to go back to the judge’s speech in which he insists it might be a man’s duty to die for his country.

By what right does anyone ask someone else to give up everything– and I mean everything– for someone else?  What is the point?  If you no longer exist, you can’t possibly obtain anything in exchange for giving up the most valuable thing you have: your own life.  When a soldier is asked to do that, the person asking it is a criminal in the most universal and absolute and uncompromising sense.  How can anyone possible gain anything by giving up his life?

Willful ignorance (it’s for your country, it’s for honor, it’s for Jesus, whatever) is no excuse.  Asking someone to die for you is a criminal act, whether it is committed by a mafioso or a president.

But how, the exasperated citizen exclaims, could we ever have a war if people believed that?   Yes, exactly.

Where would we be without young men willing to do it?  It’s really not all that different, when you think about it, from demanding that people kill for you.  Either way, you want someone else to die as a favor to you.  Thank you very much and good bye.  The monument we erect is not for you– you’ll never know a thing about it.  You will never, ever know a thing about it.  That monument is our way of trying to persuade the next victims.

Back to Richard Parker, one of the men had proposed– in unimaginable desperation– that they cast lots to see who would make the sacrifice.  It would have been interesting if they had– what then could the court have ruled?  Surely, that court, would have still ruled murder?   In their unique circumstances, they made a perfectly rational, if appalling, choice (except that one of them, Brooks, wouldn’t go along with it).  Either we do this appalling thing or we will all die.  Life is better than death.  It is better for three families to have their loved ones return to them and one mourn a death, than for four families to mourn four deaths (and destitution, probably).   You can’t run and hide from this equation and say, oh, it’s just too awful to think about.  It really happened– not just in this case in 1884– but in many other instances.

The judges, in this case, asserted, vehemently, that all four of you men in that boat should have died, rather than choose to kill Richard Parker.

It is not unimaginable that the judges would have ruled otherwise if one of the men had volunteered to die for the others (or if they had cast lots, in which sense one of them “volunteers”).  In fact, there was an earlier case from the 17th century, near Saint Christopher, in which lots were cast, and the victim (who happened to be the one who suggested lots) consented, and was eaten, and no legal action was taken.


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Processing Amy Schumer

I am trying to process an aspect of Amy Schumer’s comedy that perplexes me.  She ridicules men who find her fat and unattractive.  In the words of New York Times Reviewer Manohla Dargis, “she stops haters dead”.  I don’t know what that means.  That she shuts them up?  Heckles them back?  Humiliates them?  She just will not have it.  She just will not have you find her fat and unattractive.  Not like Lena Dunham?

I don’t know of any external physical attribute that can be changed by ridicule, though our attitudes certainly can.  So, are we men to straighten out our attitudes and learn to regard women like Amy Schumer as attractive?  Smarten up!  Attention!  Look at this body and desire it, or else!  Again, Manohla Dargis:

“Think she’s not thin enough or pretty enough?  She intercepts hateful slurs like those and turns them into ferocious comedy gold that exposes chauvinism as the absurdity it is.”

Now, I am about 167cm tall and would love to be about 180 or 185.  I suppose what I should do is become a smart-ass and ridicule people who have the nerve to find me short, exposing feminine bias for what it is: ridiculous.  Don’t you realize how much better I am than a tall person?  How much more desirable?  How amazing I am at basketball?  All you haters can just got to hell.  You will damn well desire me!

Because, I am going to put you in my movie and I will make your character fall in love with me because you realize that I am not really very short at all.  I am actually very, very tall.  And this sudden apprehension makes you ridiculously, helpless vulnerable to my sexual charms, and will really prove to all the haters out there that I am, in fact, incredibly sexy and desirable, as well as witty and funny and charming, and not at all annoying as only a hater would think I am.

And Manohla Dargis will assert that my sophisticated insights have “eviscerated” the “gauzy romanticism” of “Hoop Dreams”.

But we can extend this strategy to everything: art, music, poetry.  How dare you find my music lame?  I will write a movie in which the character you play will watch me perform my song with adoration and astonishment, and I will have the entire crowd stand up and applaud at the end, screaming, shaking their heads in wonder, as if I was Maryl Streep singing it myself.  How dare you not like my painting?  How dare you find my blog boring?  How dare you not like me?

We know that Schumer can write just as good as any man because another story by a woman about how sexy and desirable this particular woman is, once our hero comes to his senses, drives home the point that women can write just as good as any man.

The get out of jail free card here is the usual one: exploiting sexuality for a cheap laugh is actually female empowerment, and liberation.  This isn’t a lesbian film: those short skirts and long cleavages are directed at men.  I am liberated and empowered because you want to have sex with me.  Ha!  Told you!

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John Van Maanen, a professor of management at M.I.T. Sloan who teaches a course named “Leading Organizations,” isn’t so sure it can. “Even today, three-plus decades in, there’s no real definition of it,” he says. “We can make people more conscious of ethical dilemmas in business, of the difficulty of directing people in times of adversity, and the confidence and communication skills necessary to do so. But the idea that such skills can be transmitted so that you can lead anybody at any time, that’s ideologically vacuous.”

“It’s difficult not to be frustrated by the excessive focus on it,” he says, “but it’s become so popular that we apparently can’t teach enough of it.”  NyTimes 2015-07-29

As I suspected…

May you have been blessed to be a “Leadership Trainer” (or whatever you call someone who confers “leadership skills” upon the worthy acolyte).  I fall back on Karl Popper’s theories about knowledge, that in order for something to be “true” it must be possible to prove it false.  In other words, for someone to say they have acquired “leadership skills” it must be at least theoretically possible to prove they have not.

I’m not talking about self-proclaimed leaders.   I’m talking about what the marketeers try to sell you as “leadership skills”.  It is not possible, of course, in reality, to measure them, because every leader just kind of feels good about himself or herself and starts talking about “we leaders must…” blah blah blah as if they have some kind of objective proof that they have made the grade.

A leader makes decisions.  A leader has a vision.  A leader makes tough choices.  A leader knows how to motivate his foundlings or acolytes or whatever.  Any two-bit manager does or does not do all of those things but only the ones who have received medals and certificates start to think there is something special about their own decisions and visions and choices.  In my experience, the ones with the most auspicious claims about their “leadership qualities” are the most likely to postpone, delay, consult, and equivocate.   They are more likely to slow things down and to impose wasteful bureaucratic procedures on the decision-making process, have more people sign off on decisions, and get angry when people, who actually want to get things done, do things without waiting for the “process” to catch up to them.

They are the kind of people that spend $6 million on consultants who recommend that they sell a provincial asset for $6 million, but don’t recommend that they never again hire idiot consultants to advise them on how to do the job they are paid to do.

Why?  Because a single really bad decision can wipe out years of equivocation, evasion, and obfuscation.  Why take a chance?  You can always, given the vocabulary of leadership training, claim to be a great leader without actually having to prove anything.  There is no way to prove that any leadership training has worked.  There is no way to prove that a leader is a good leader because if things are going well, they probably would have gone well anyway, and if things are going bad, they could always have gone worse.

But if someone can prove you made a bad decision, the cat is out of the bag.  So you hire a consultant.  And if it proves to be a bad decision, you say, “oh, but the that’s what the consultant recommended.”   They don’t say, “I am the one who chose a stupid consultant.”

People who actually make good, quick decisions– and stick to them– tend to have a more prosaic view of “leadership”: you’re in charge — make decisions.  They feel less threatened by others taking some initiative.  They don’t feel that other peoples’ accomplishments are a threat to their own status.


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You have probably heard by now that authorities in North Carolina decided to charge a young, 17-year-0ld man with possession of child pornography because he had a picture of himself, naked, taken when he was 16, on his cell phone.  I am not making this up.  I wish I was, but no, we live in a world in which serious, well-paid, “professional” adults, see nothing absurd in the idea of charging a boy with possession of a pornographic picture of himself.

I’m not just referring to the idiot who originally laid the charges.  I accept that there are idiots in the world.  No one should be surprised when one bursts into the limelight occasionally.  What I can’t believe is that this idiot was not immediately slapped down and restrained by someone higher up with sense.  A colleague, perhaps, or a sergeant or captain.  Instead, it went on to the District Attorney, to a judge, to the courts, and the public: we are on the job, protecting young men from pictures of themselves.

They also “seized” his phone.  They seized his phone.  I don’t know for sure– maybe I would be surprised– but I’ll bet most people think nothing of this fact.  The police seized his phone.  They physically removed it from his possession and took control of it and, presumably, explored it.  What do you have on your phone?  What messages have you sent?  What photos are on there?  Who sent you photos?  Who did you send photos?

This is really a shocking and repulsive act of personal invasion.  Did the police feel entitled to search his phone?  It was in the process of investigating what the police called a possible “statutory rape” which did not involve this boy, or his girlfriend.   So on what basis did they justify asking the boy’s mother for permission to look at his phone, without a warrant, without having provided any judge with evidence that the boy may have committed a crime?  Without having warned his mother, if we find any inappropriate pictures of your boy on this phone, we will have to arrest him and charge him with possession of inappropriate pictures of himself.

American Sharia

This is insane.  I think there have probably always been people who would think such a thing was very serious and very, very naughty,  should be punished with at least a prison sentence, but I think those people have, in the past, been told to shut up and stop being hysterical.  Now they win.  The teen was arrested.  His horrible, evil, monstrous deed was publicized (indeed, it has now gone around the world), and he almost found himself saddled with a lifetime of explaining to anyone who might consider employing him that he had a felony on his record, a crime so awful and despicable that it must remain attached to his record for all of his days: for yes, indeed, I saw myself naked.

Some sense did enter the fray: they eventually consented to reduce the charges.  And now they expect us to see how really reasonable they really are?   We know that you didn’t drop all charges because then you would not be able to hope most devoutly and fervently that there are people out there who will think, “well, he must have done something bad or the police would never have charged him.”

His girlfriend, by the way, received the same treatment, for sending a nude picture of herself, at 16, to her boyfriend, but I’ll bet the police and the District Attorney studied her picture more carefully before laying charges.  Yes, she too was charged with producing child pornography.

There are no shades of grey here, no ambiguity, no room for interpretation.  These people are monstrous idiots.  They are not just “idiots” because they are stupid and malevolent and, in fact, psychotic.  I do not qualify the word “psychotic”: they are completely uncaring about the harm they cause in proportion to the supposed offense.

The arresting officers should be fired and arrested and charged with public mischief and given a light sentence.  Because there’s no sense in multiplying the horrors and indignities of stupid, small-minded, hysterically fearful people.  But they must be fired.

But it would be more keeping with the spirit of the police here to charge the police themselves with possession of child porn.  Perhaps one of the officers who searched the phone could lay charges against himself.

If Americans are serious when they say they fear Sharia law, let them show it.

More Psychotic Behaviour by the Authorities.

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Sexual Assault on Campus

If, like me, you are skeptical of the rates of sexual assault on college campuses as quoted by the media and many columnists, consider this poll,

The main difference?   Everybody completed this questionnaire (not just people who were interested), and the definition of “sexual assault” was narrowed to what most sensible people actually believe is sexual assault.  In short, the poll was directed and managed by people who did not have an incentive to pad the results.




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Crimes and Narcissism

In the new study, “Inequality in 700 Popular Films”, researchers made the shocking discovery that only about 4.1% of the top films– the most popular films– were directed by women.   This is outrageous.  Those studios should immediately hire a lot of women and put them in charge of 50% of the highest grossing films.

No, that doesn’t really make sense, does it.

We have a conflict here between people who feel that only 4% of successful Hollywood films are directed by women because women are systematically excluded from positions of authority at the studios, and the possibility that women have not been able to produce enough successful films to earn their way up the ladder.  Would Hollywood sacrifice profits for the sole purpose of treating women unequally?   I am very skeptical.

All this gets to be beside the point I care about.  The top-grossing films of 2015, so far, are:

  • Jurassic World
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron
  • Furious 7
  • Inside Out
  • Minions
  • Cinderella
  • Pitch Perfect 2
  • Home
  • Fifty Shades of Grey
  • The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge out of Water

Oh, and you can add Ant-Man, Mad Max: Fury Road, San Andreas, whatever.  It doesn’t matter.  The goal of the feminist movement is to make sure that women get to direct half of these mediocre, unimportant films.  Because…  well, that’s where the money is, for one thing.

But one thing they might argue is that women would make more interesting, human-centered films about things of emotional importance, family, friendship, and so on.  But then the hordes of teenage ticket-buying customers would go elsewhere and these films would fall out of the top 700 and we would be back where we started, wouldn’t we?  Some men would come along and make movies about exploding cars and frat boys who go to Vegas and drink and have gratuitous sex with random women, and those films would sell more tickets.

Would the feminists go so far as to require movie theatre chains to show an equal number of films about family, relationships, and things of emotional importance, so the female directors and writers have half a chance.  They might.  Would that be a terrible idea?  Yes.  We live in world in which large corporations are believed to have no social responsibility whatsoever.   The film industry does everything it can to create the illusion of social responsibility, especially when it’s Oscar time, but if you suggested to a producer that he stop catering to our incessant wishes to feel good about watching violence and ogling women, he would simply mouth the word “censorship”  and all of the civil libertarians and the 14-year-old boys would stampede to his rescue.

They would be partly right: not one of the top 20 films is artistically important or interesting.  But then, that’s not what most people want out of a movie anyway.  So the next question is this: if you are complaining that only 4.1% of the top films are directed by women, are you not, in fact, admitting that women don’t seem to have the ability to direct commercially successful films?

I find it difficult– not impossible, just difficult– to believe that Hollywood, which is insanely driven by profit, would not hire a female director if they thought for one minute that she was capable of directing a film that would make a lot of money.   Do you know what happens at a Hollywood party when someone shows up who just directed a box office smash?   Can you feel the vibe?  Can you withstand the incredible magnetism of someone who is rich and famous and powerful, because he or she produced something that made a gigantic, smoldering pile of money?

Do you know how much influence that person has suddenly?

So there was a woman director out there and she had produced a few low-budget winners that showed strong audience approval and critical acceptance, like most independent directors who went on to direct big Hollywood productions, I believe she would have her chance.

Hollywood would hire a goat, if it produced something like “Rush” or “Avengers”.  And a goat would probably do just as well since most of the really skilled work is done by technicians.  The goat would simply press for a higher body count and more explosions.  The plot doesn’t matter.  Dialogue doesn’t matter.  The important thing is to look cool while slaughtering people and always imply in some sly way that the slaughtered deserved their fates.  Goats can handle that.  Should we have a girl in a bikini blow up another helicopter?  Baaaaa.  That means yes.  And then the goat will establish a foundation to support lost sheep, one-legged chickens, and homeless wabbits.

Feminists would argue that because women are not given the chance to direct sitcoms or independent films or commercials or rock videos, they don’t get the chance to acquire the experience and knowledge and connections required to take the next step up to feature films.  Many of those deals, they argue, are arranged at lunches or parties to which they are not invited.  They don’t get the chance to build up their resumes the way male directors  do.  Then, when a juicy big picture deal, like “Lord of the Rings”,  comes up, they don’t get serious consideration because they don’t have the extensive experience “required”.

But it’s not 1975.  Women directors, like young, independent men directors, do have greater access to low-cost equipment and resources.  But we don’t have a body of work by female directors that would suggest that they can be as good or better than male directors.

No, we do not.  We have some pretty good films, but you cannot construct a list of films by female directors that can match, in any respect, any reasonable list of the best genuinely artistic films of the past 20 years.

And Amy Schumer is not successful in the way the top male directors have been:   Spike Lee or Christopher Nolan or Francois Truffaut or Mike Leigh or Quentin Tarantino or Stanley Kubrick or Darren Aranovsky or Robert Zemeckis or James Cameron or Stephen Spielberg or Martin Scorcese  or Guy Ritchie, or David Fincher  or Joel Coen or Frank Darabont or Alfonso Cuaron, or Terrence Malick– shall I go on?

Is there a woman director who could make a film like “Crimes and Misdemeanors”, with it’s rueful reflections on crime and punishment, and the meaning of life?  Or “The Godfather”? Or “Tree of Life”?   Or “Blade Runner”, which explores the question of identity– what makes us human?  What makes us see?  What makes us want to live?

Or “The White Ribbon”, trying to answer the question of what kind of culture gives rise to a murderous, fascist state?   Or “Secrets and Lies”?  “The Great Beauty”?  “The Best Man”?

Or would a woman’s version confine itself to the affairs, the sex, the family, like Sofia Coppola’s contemptible take on Marie Antoinette: she was always just misunderstood?

We do have some good female directors: Kelly Reichart, Gillian Armstrong and Suzanne Bier and maybe Nicole Holofcener.  Well, I’m being generous here.  Holofcener made at least two fine films, but it was, again, about sex (in the broad sense: relationships between men and women, and women’s self-image).  Catherine Breillat?  Oh wait, that was also about sexuality.

Sarah Polley’s films are just plain awful.

Agniezka Holland?  An emphatic yes, an exception.  Claire Denis?  Yes.  (“Beau Travail” was remarkable).  Lina Wertmuller?  Yes, but even her brilliant films, “Swept Away”, and “Seven Beauties” are firstly and mostly concerned with…  sex.  Relationships.  Do you love me?

No doubt partisans on the feminist side will look at a film like “The Third Man” and “The Conversation” and “The Great Beauty” and “Z”, and declare them either boring or pointless or both, and not really any better than “The Piano” or whatever.

I really don’t care.  It is better.  It is far better and far more important than “The Piano” or any almost any other film directed by a woman, so far.


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At an Extraordinary Personal Cost

I was just looking at a promo for the movie about Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys.  It tells me that this film, and  I quote, “examines the personal voyage and ultimate salvation of the icon whose success came at extraordinary personal cost“.   In order to create great music like “Fun Fun Fun” and “Good Vibrations”, he had to suffer.   No, he didn’t.

This is the kind of blather studios routinely put out there about the subjects of their films but this one is more annoying than usual.  The “personal cost” they are referring to was not the price Brian Wilson paid for being creative and clever and inventive.  It is not where his talent came from.  It was the price of being emotionally immature and spineless and being bullied by a mean dad.

The promo would like you to believe– as per the standard Hollywood myth (see “Walk the Line”)– that suffering produces great art.  Think about a person beset by misfortune, the early death of a parent, poverty, war, or bad health.  Some people with awful lives have produced great art.  That doesn’t mean their awful lives caused them to produce great art.

Many creative people– like many uncreative people– are emotionally immature and irresponsible.  The difference is, we don’t hear much about the uncreative people with those problems, unless they end up being the subject of the art produced by the creative people.  But creative people love the concept because, for one thing, it gives them an excuse, which they know people will readily forgive.

It’s not the “price you pay” though there’s something to the idea that good artists are able to express their dissatisfying moments in their art.   People who generally accept the status quo and find their lives reasonably pleasing and satisfying are not likely to want to spend an agonizing amount of time trying to express their feelings about it, to argue it, to describe it, to re-imagine it, than people who are extremely dissatisfied with life.  To write or paint or compose, you have to be able to imagine something that does not exist.  And by something, I mean more than just objects or things.  I mean mind-sets, feelings, relationships, politics, sounds and images, words.  Most people can’t do that.

Did Amy Winehouse pay a steep emotional price for her music?  No, she was a fabulous artist who just happened to have a weakness for alcohol and drugs.  She paid a steep emotional price for having steep emotions, for feeling things intensely, for allowing herself to be manipulated by people around her with a financial stake in her schedule.  But it wasn’t the suffering that made her music great: it was her talent.

I remember an interview with Paul McCartney in Musician Magazine in which he discussed the criticism of his post-Beatles work, which many thought was trivial and unimportant.  He recognized that it was Lennon’s darker, more cynical vision that gave the Beatles’ music gravitas, and complained that he didn’t want to go out and suffer just so he could produce better music.

And he was right.  And wrong.  He didn’t need to suffer to produce great music.  He just needed to use a talent he didn’t have, to come up with a line like “puts on a face that she keeps in a jar by the door/who is it for?”


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The Duggars

It is evident from a thread on the topic in Reddit that many– if not most people  (I couldn’t find a single exception in the thread)–  don’t like making distinctions among different types or levels of abuse.  In fact, one poster commented that any kind of sexual abuse is always at least the same as rape.  I have not checked back lately: surely some contributors will make that distinction.

We don’t regard a slap in the face the same way as a stabbing.  We don’t think of shoplifting the same as armed-robbery.  Why do we regard inappropriate touching as the same as rape?

In the case of the Duggars, a son, Josh, confessed to his parents that he had touched four of his sisters and one other girl inappropriately, while they were sleeping, some time in 2006, when he was 13.  (Some sources say 14 0r 15, but the Duggars themselves say he told them about it just before his 14th birthday.) None of the sisters have any recollection of these incidents.

The family tried to handle the incident without unnecessarily destroying individuals or the family.  They prayed about it and sought counseling and righted themselves and Josh went on to get married and have three children of his own.

What a terrible outcome.  At least, that’s what you might think given the outpouring of outrage directed at the Duggars and TLC.

TLC had to cancel the program.  Why?  What exactly was the outrage about?  That the Duggars didn’t have their son arrested?  That he was allowed to apologize and be reconciled with the rest of the family?  That the sisters were not sent out for extensive therapy in order –really– to convince them that they really were quite traumatized even if they didn’t think they were?

And here’s the thing: the sisters made it clear that they have no outstanding issues with Josh.  Whatever was done was handled within the family to everyone’s satisfaction.

It was “In Touch Weekly”, an ironically-named online gossip magazine, that acquired copies of the police investigation and publicized the incident without the consent of the family or the victims .

Think about that: think about the hue and the cry of outrage on behalf of the victims without the slightest concern for the fact that an obscenely trashy on-line for-profit magazine published the story without their consent while inviting you to feel outrage at Josh on behalf of the “victims”!

Is it possible that the girls still loved their brother and their family and forgave him for the mistakes he made when he was 13, and for which he clearly apologized?  And that they would prefer to embrace their own family in love instead of sending him off to prison, and possibly tearing the family apart, forever?  That they believed no harm had been done because they hadn’t even been aware of the incidents until “In Touch Weekly” decided they, and everyone else in the world, just had to know?

So how do we get to be all righteous and indignant and outraged and hell-bent for retribution if the victims themselves don’t cooperate?  We accuse them of being brainwashed, that’s what we do (which is what some contributors on Reddit did).  And if they don’t know better, then they need to be forcibly, lovingly, compassionately, enlightened, and taught to be outraged and vindictive and depressed, and to need years and years of therapy,  and to only sense “closure” when they are sure that Josh has been humiliated and destroyed.

I was stunned by the intensity of antipathy for Josh Duggar, who, remember, was 13 at the time, and the entire family.  And the double-speak: “I’m not trying to tell them what they should feel.  I just think it should be acknowledged that they are not feeling the right things.”  And how dare they— how dare they! — express anger about the entire affair being exposed by “In Touch Weekly”, squeezed in somewhere between their stories about the Kardashians and Donald Trump’s ex-wives.

There’s a lesson about human nature here, and it’s not a pretty one.  We are a lot of psychotic people.  We want to see humiliation and punishment and the destruction of lives because it makes us feel good.  It lets us take pleasure in emotional savagery by linking it to righteous indignation at the biggest taboo in our society.  Some people will regard us as psychotic or worse if we just seem to destroy people for the fun of it, so we wait for an excuse.  Ah ha!  He molested his sisters!  Now we can freely indulge.  Now we don’t have to have one ounce of compassion or sorrow or regret for the lives we destroy in the process of shouting our righteousness’s to the stars.

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No Rapes Please

A rape scene is not only too much for audiences, Ms. Zambello said, but it also overshadows everything else. “The point is fine,” she added, “but when it is so graphic it becomes the end rather than the means.”

Ms. Zambello is an opera director.  She is concerned here with offending the sensibilities of those educated, rich people who occasionally go out to the opera.

I would ask opera director Ms. Zambello if she plans to stage “Macbeth” or “Hamlet” or “Othello” or, well, just about anything, in the future, which might have a murder in it.   Or how about “Salome”, which features a decapitation?  If so, why would you refuse to stage a rape?  Why, indeed, would you stage anything at all, if you want your audiences to be shielded from the unpleasant realities of war and social dysfunction?

So substitute “murder” for “rape” in the quoted paragraph.  Well, it could be done.  It could be a Disney film.  No murders, no violence.  And it could be a serious film.  But it would never be a serious film involving a murder, because it would “overshadow” everything else in the story.  So get busy rewriting “Macbeth” and “Hamlet” and “The Pianist” and “Saving Private Ryan” and all the other works of art that have murders in them.

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