July 23, 2010 - July 16, 2010
Thursday, October 22, 2009
A Rematch MadeEyed
was an extraordinary series, despite the Yankee shutout.
. I obviously don't know that the Angels
won't come back from the brink to beat the Yankees, and if there is
a Phillies-Yankees World Series
I don't know who will win. But right now I'm in the grip of the kind of
baseball sentimentality that to my mind represents the transcendant
nature of the sport because its roots extend so far back in time that
even I, at my advanced age, don't remember the originating events. But
that doesn't mean the emotions aren't real, personal, and vivid.
I've previously written about the fact that my earliest experience of
baseball was the 1964
in which the Phillies blew a 6-1/2 game lead when it seemed
the pennant was won. But the reason I was a baseball fan in the first
place was my parents, whose own Phillies-imprinting experience was the
1950 season. They were four years married and living in their first
house, a colonial wreck in the country they spent all their time
returning to first habitability and then beauty. They did it with sweat
and determination, not money, and in those first years they couldn't
afford entertainments like nights on the town. In those days they were
struggling to have children -- my older sister and only sibling
wouldn't be born until after the 1951 season -- and their lone
companion was an Irish setter named Katie, a rescued stray for whom my
father quit smoking cigarettes to afford dog food. Katie was well worth
it. She was one of those scary smart dogs who really seemed to
understand conversational English and once went for help, in classic
cinematic fashion, when my mother was badly injured in an automobile
accident. It took all their powers of persuasion to coax her back into
the repaired Jeep afterwards, even though she'd always loved riding in
that topless, doorless dog paradise of a vehicle, where she waited like
a statue when left alone during stops and errands of all kinds.
Where was I...? Back in 1950. These were the kinds of stories we kids
heard about the years before we arrived, and they were always
interwoven with memories of the glorious pennant win and heartbreaking
World Series defeat of the Philadelphia Phillies. The screened-in porch
would only be built years later, so on the hottest summer nights they
sat in the hall that ran from the front to the back of the house, with
both doors propped open and a small electric fan whirring uselessly
against the hot humid air. They drank icy daiquiris and listened to the
" Phillies make their improbable race for the pennant. The term
"light hitting," used as a description of that team by sportswriters,
was grossly inaccurate because it included the term "hitting," which
the Phillies manifestly didn't.
I only know some of these details of my parents' early life together because of
baseball. During the
wonderful and traumatic 1964 season, they wanted me to know that the
Phillies color announcer, Richie Ashburn, was as important to them as
Richie Allen and Johnny Callison were to me. He was the lone .300
hitter on the 1950 team, and while they didn't tell me about individual
games, they continually described an archetypal Whiz Kids game in which
Ashburn consistently got on base and died there waiting for hits that
never came. As I think of it, this must be more than anything a World
Series memory, since you don't win a pennant if your leadoff star never
gets batted home. Which is also a clue to the fact that 1964 hurt them,
too, not as badly perhaps since they were grownups, but enough that
unlike me, they never
following the Phils for the rest of their lives.
When the Phillies played, my mother watched or listened, even into her
82nd and final year of life. I got used to the fact, without being
particularly aware of it, that when I visited my parents in summer,
there was like as not the radio background of the ballpark, that tidal
murmur of the crowd and the voice of Kalas and for a long time Ashburn,
no matter how well or poorly the team was doing that year. Toward the
end, it may have been the case that my mother was no longer really
following the game but resting instead on the comforting blur of that
sound and the memories it evoked. Because it was that way for me.
Despite her vagueness and frailty I could somehow still see the image
of the two of them in their hot hallway, young and hopeful, hanging on
the next pitch and calling each other "Bus" (short for Buster, which
they eventually stopped doing as time passed), waiting for that next
critical crack of the bat, which is always on the way and always
will be. That's the eternity of baseball.
That's why memories of people like Richie Ashburn and Harry
ultimately become so personal. Unlike every other sport, baseball is a
day-after-day-after-day game, ingrained in the fabric of your life. The
season is not a series of big events. It's a dramatic enactment of
spring, summer, and fall, which follows the life of leaves, and the
bareness of winter ends when spring training starts and the old murmur
of the life crowd resumes. So there is eternity. But there is also
history. Which makes some years, some confrontations, more important
than others in the endless life-affirming cycle.
My parents have unfinished business with the Yankees. Richie Ashburn
has unfinished business with the Yankees. Because of Richie, his best
friend Harry Kalas has unfinished business with the Yankees. And
because of the Whiz Kids and Ashburn and Kalas and millions of sons and
daughters in the Delaware Valley, the Philadelphia Phillies have unfinished business
with the Yankees. It doesn't matter how long ago the 1950 series
happened. In fact, it matters more
because of how long ago the 1950 series happened.
time the Philadelphia Phillies played the New York Yankees in the World
, the Yankees had Joe Dimaggio, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto,
Johnny Mize, and Hank Bauer. They wound up playing a Phillies
series, all pitching and
no hitting. The Yankees scored a total of 11 runs, with only two
homeruns, one by Dimaggio and one by Berra. The ERA of the losing
Phillies team was 2.27.
I'm not saying the Yankees didn't deserve to win. They played the
Phillies game better than the Phillies did, but the Whiz Kids were
still remarkable. The MVP in the National League that year was Jim
Konstanty, a bespectacled relief pitcher who was the forerunner of what
we would today call a "closer." Amazingly, the Phils chose him to start
the World Series opener, which he lost 1-0 after an eight inning
performance. He also pitched seven more innings in relief in the next
three games, giving up a series total of 9 hits and 4 earned runs for
an ERA of 2.40. Phils ace Robin Roberts pitched 11 innings with an ERA
In short, what the 1950 Phillies needed was hitting
. That's what the 2009
Phillies have above all else. The Yankees and the Phillies are the two
most prolific homerun hitters in Major League Baseball.
I can feel the departed Whiz Kid fans salivating in prospect of this
series. Let loose the howitzers on both sides. I know I'll be watching
from a hot hallway in 1950, waiting for that next breathtaking moment
of remembrance... and, uh, vengeance.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
The New Video
I know this is an IP rerun. If you didn't watch
whole thing before, do so now. It's
catchy and important.
Meaning it's actually a good rap video, deftly on point.
. At least one of you said I was being "too hard" on
Davis Hanson in yesterday's post. I went back to the site where his
essay was posted and read the comments
The man is getting love from
all over, including blanket agreement from people in their twenties and
thirties. That's head in the sand stuff, folks.
Or worse. A lot of the propaganda war for the socialist Obama agenda is
being fought in the popular culture. How many of you know that in the
same week Limbaugh was successfully marginalized as a potential NFL
owner, Black-Eyed Peas singer Fergie was approved
? It was her
band partner, "will.i.am," who
creepy pro-Obama video in the 2008 election:
Her own contribution to the body
is exemplified by this
The libelling of Limbaugh is a story, certainly, but it's not the whole
story. The head-in-the-sand
crowd have no way of knowing just how shockingly insulting and
dangerous the new precedents are. Imagine members of the French
Resistance in 1940 preferring to remember only the "Good Germany," the
blessed memories of Goethe and Beethoven, because they are simply above
paying heed to the
machinations of Josef Goebbels. There probably were such high-toned
patriots. But they were the ones who got led away into the black holes
of the Gestapo, never to be seen again.
That's why we've been at some pains here to celebrate the observations
of less snobbish but no less committed conservatives like Jonah
and Jay Nordlinger. They, too, know their way around the
literary canon and the classical tradition, but they're also
plugged-in 21st century consumers of both high culture and pop culture.
Which makes them much more alert sensors of the sinister subtlety of
the left's attack on our values through the medium of popular culture.
One link we've been saving because it's worthy of a thoughtful post of
its own is this essay by Nordlinger on "Safe
." (Sincere apologies to Mr. Nordlinger for reproducing the
whole thing, but
there are times when the whole thing is necessary...)
Why sportswriters, and others, should
It’s an old story, but one that deserves retelling now and then: I’m
talking about the injection of politics — partisan politics — into
sports columns. And into other areas where partisan politics have no
place. As I’ve taken to lamenting in recent times, there is no “safe
A reader of National Review Online sent me an e-mail whose Subject line
read “Safe-Zone Violation!” (I get many such e-mails.) This reader had
been enjoying a sports column in the New York Post about a local PGA
tournament. The columnist was complaining that Tiger Woods was not
sufficiently open to the media. He wrote, “It’s not like we’re trying
to pull President Obama aside for a couple of questions while he’s
trying to save our country from itself.”
Was that really necessary? Psychologically, for the columnist, it may
I did a little note about this on NRO, and it struck a nerve — struck
it hard. Readers responded with an avalanche of mail, much of it
anguished. A typical letter went (something like), “I always loved
reading So-and-so” — Bill Simmons of ESPN.com, for example. “But
finally I had to stop because he was constantly insulting my political
views with little asides. Why do they have to do that? Why do they have
to alienate half their audience, or at least some part of it?”
I could give you a thousand examples of “safe-zone violations” in
sportswriting. Why don’t I give you a more modest, less choking number?
A columnist for the Boston Globe was writing about hockey, and he said,
“Bigger nets will likely bring, at most, a teeny-weeny uptick in
scoring. Focusing on bigger nets, in many ways, is hockey’s version of
cutting taxes — eye-catching, but ineffective.” You see, he knows about
economics. And has college football’s Bowl Championship Series ever
reminded you of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney? No? You’re weird.
In 2007, the Washington Post’s John Feinstein wrote, “The BCS
Presidents are a lot like the current President of the United States.
They think that if they keep repeating their lies and half-truths and
remind people who they are enough times, people will buy into what
they’re selling. According to one poll, only 21 percent of the American
people are buying what President Bush is selling, but it sure took a
long time and lot of deaths to get there.” The next year, Mike Celizic
of NBCSports.com wrote, “Is Dick Cheney a member of the BCS? That’s got
to be the explanation for the latest load of nonsense to come out of
the outfit that runs the system by which college football does not
choose a legitimate champion.”
Celizic likes Cheney, in a way. Here he is in a different column, same
topic: “. . . the stewards of the BCS, who match Dick Cheney in
arrogance and outrank him in gall, have confirmed their intention of
depriving college football fans of a playoff and a legitimate
champion.” Celiciz writes about other topics, but Cheney seems ever
with him: “The Jaguars’ front seven surrendered rushing yards as
willingly as Dick Cheney admits to strategic errors in Iraq.” And so on.
Sarah Palin comes in for a lot of abuse from sportswriters, as you
might expect. Here is an item from Sports Illustrated’s website —the
subject is baseball (really): “Imagine for a minute that you had free
reign [sic] to add any three players to your team for the second half,
while punishing a heated [hated?] rival by tagging them with three more
of your choice. That’s basically the essence of this week’s revised
format: three players who will heat up post-All-Star break and three
who will break down faster than you can say Sarah Palin.”
If he says so.
Another Sports Illustrated writer was sizing up Heisman prospects,
ranking them, 1 to 10. He said he “had more trouble picking the No. 10
candidate than Sarah Palin had choosing a Supreme Court ruling she
opposed.” A writer for a college-football site had occasion to write,
“Sarah Palin could be thrown out there against John Kenneth Galbraith
in an open forum debate on economic reform, and if it’s in that time
slot on CBS, it would go down to the wire.” (Actually, to borrow an old
line, Galbraith knew more than Palin about economics — and also more
that simply isn’t true.) An SI writer, soliciting reader mail, asked
specifically for “Sarah Palin jokes.” Why not?
But Palin is nothing like the target Dick Cheney is. Perusing SI’s
website, you might suspect that anti-Cheney remarks are required from
all SI writers. These remarks amount to a big, collective tic. Have a
passage on a San Antonio Spur: “[He] remains as unpopular among
non-Spurs as Dick Cheney is among Democrats, Independents, Americans
with no political affiliation, a growing number of Republicans, the
great majority of the world population as well as that poor guy he
filled with buckshot.”
A column about David Beckham, the soccer star, came with a warning: “If
you care about [Beckham] about as much as Dick Cheney cares about
Global Warming, feel free to click through somewhere else.” A column
about basketball confessed error: “What could I possibly have been
thinking when I picked the Knicks to finish sixth in the East? . . .
Dick Cheney was more accurate in his prediction that we would be
greeted as liberators.” Here is one about football: “His comments to
reporters after practice were, for the most part, as bland as a Dick
Cheney address.” Here is another about football: “As it is, the dour
Belichick, who is only slightly less warm and fuzzy than Steely Dick
Cheney, is easy to root against.”
And have a handful about baseball: “The Red Sox even hired James, which
is like Dick Cheney hiring a French chef.” “After . . . conducting
himself with the sunniness of Dick Cheney throughout the ’05 season . .
.” “For those superstars dropping out of the WBC like so many lawyers
around Dick Cheney . . .” “Watching Bonds talk to reporters is like
watching Dick Cheney when he’s asked to discuss his daughter’s sexual
Etc., etc., etc. There are many more where those came from, from
innocuous to rotten. These anti-Cheney jabs seem to be an open
codeword, or an unsecret handshake. They say, “I’m cool, I’m with-it,
I’m in the club.” Sportswriting is as susceptible to groupthink as
other fields. People in general, when they run, like to run with the
herd, no matter what their protestations of independence.
As I said at the outset, this is not a new story:
politics-in-sportswriting. Christopher Caldwell, who has just written a
book about the Islamicization of Europe, once wrote a piece about the
politicization of Sports Illustrated: “Sports Eliminated” (!). That was
for the inaugural issue of The Weekly Standard, in September 1995.
James Taranto, of OpinionJournal.com, has a series called “Wannabe
Pundits,” which includes political forays by sportswriters — I have
quoted an example or two of his above. And I myself have banged this
drum for a while.
The problem is worse than ever, I believe, and I also believe that we
have a broader national problem: with political talk leaking over into
almost everything. The “cable culture” is all around us, and safe zones
— i.e., spheres free of partisan politics — are diminishing.
Why do sportswriters do it? Why do they bust out political? I have a
theory, and it’s an easy theory — maybe a too-easy one: Sports guys,
some of them, may be a bit embarrassed to be sportswriters. So they
have to prove they’re just as serious — just as liberal, virtuous, and
“engaged” with the world — as their colleagues on the news and
editorial desks. “I may cover the NFL, but hey! I hate Bush as much as
you do, I swear.”
Or it may just be that they have a platform, and they’re going to
exploit it. “While I have your attention on Roger Federer, let me tell
you what I think of Bush.”
And as long as I’m playing shrink, I will hazard something else: You
can glimpse the insecurity of sportswriters in the overwriting they do.
Many sportswriters are notorious overwriters, larding their prose with
similes, metaphors, and other imagined, writerly cleverness. The
message? “I may not be writing about the weightiest or most
consequential affairs, but you see how smart and lit’rary I am?!”
An NRO reader had a nice insight and comparison, I believe. He
e-mailed, “My brother says there is no liberal more liberal than a
southern liberal.” (So, so true — see the former chief of the New York
Times, Howell Raines, for instance.) “Similarly, there may be no writer
more liberal than a sportswriter.”
Of course, contemporary sportswriting is part of the “New Journalism,”
which includes a lot of ego, a lot of politics, and a lot of sociology.
(I have written a few of these pieces myself! May be embarked on one
now . . .) In 2002, I wrote for National Review an essay called
“Hunting Tiger: Everyone wants a piece of him.” It began, “The pressure
on Tiger Woods is mounting, and it has nothing to do with golf: It’s
the pressure to blacken up — to be a social activist, a racial
spokesman.” Much of that pressure has come from sportswriters, acting
on their “social conscience,” and demanding that the famous, talented
people they write about come into line. So far, Tiger has proven his
own man, much to the consternation of many.
Incidentally, on no subject are sportswriters more sanctimonious or
insufferable than on the subject of race. Of course, this is true of
writers in general.
I can further testify to the need that many people felt, over the last
eight or so years, to confirm their hatred of George W. Bush. Let me
take you to Salzburg, in about 2003. I’m covering concerts and operas
at the festival. I meet a fellow critic — also an American — at an
intermission. He wants to express displeasure with an opera production
that is “transgressive,” “subversive,” and whatever other trendy word
you can think of. He began, “I hate George Bush, but . . .” — then he
criticized the production. He had to assure me, you see, that he was
not a Neanderthal or prude. He needed to assure me that he did not have
horns and a tail. So he said, “I hate George Bush” — out of nowhere, to
a complete stranger.
One funny thing was that he was talking to an admirer of President
Bush, and not only that, to someone who had taken a leave of absence
from his regular job to work on Bush’s speechwriting team. Apparently,
my fellow critic had not seen my horns and tail. To him, “I hate George
Bush” was a laissez-passer — his permission to go ahead and criticize a
radical opera production.
Should sportswriters blurt out “I hate George Bush,” in whatever form?
Is that some kind of laissez-passer of theirs? I quote Austin Murphy,
of, of all places, SI.com:
Those of us who toil in journalism’s toy department
do so under orders never to breach The Firewall. As a sportswriter, we
are told, you must never allow your politics to seep into your prose.
Readers come to us seeking respite and escape; surcease from the cares
of the world. So it simply won’t do to cause them discomfort by
bringing up the policies and peccadilloes, the wide stances and
extramarital romances of our elected officials. Passages on politics,
favoring either red or blue, will be deleted by pencils red and blue.
Lions and Bears, yes. Donkeys and elephants, no.
That is a lovely passage. But the writer must be speaking of some
far-distant age, or of a principle to be ignored — for the sports
columns are chockfull of politics (coming, almost always, from the
left). This “Firewall” must have been razed long ago, by the evidence
of our eyes.
Some sports guys are so political, they have simply crossed over. I
mean, they have made honest men of themselves by being forthrightly
political guys. Keith Olbermann of MSNBC is the most prominent such
example. Other sports guys are just a blur: half sportswriter, half
political pundit. The other week, Frank Fitzpatrick of the Philadelphia
Inquirer devoted his column to making sport (so to speak) of protests
over health care. The sports fig leaf, I suppose, was that health-care
policy was the latest “blood sport,” reminiscent of “an Eagles-Jets
It is not only the sports sections of newspapers that are infected by
politics — other, ostensibly non-political sections may be unsafe
zones. An NRO reader told me, “I stopped reading the New York Times in
the ’80s, when the cooking columns started saying things like, ‘Just as
Reagan should have known it was time to [do X], you must carefully
monitor the exact time to [do Y].” I even received complaints about
And a woman from Nashville registered the following: “Conservative
women also have to put up with this when reading one of the expensive,
glossy women’s mags such as Cosmo or Glamour. You’re reading a lovely
little article on vintage purses, the best under-eye creams, boyfriend
woes, etc., and — there it is. A Palin slam. A reference to Dick Cheney
shooting someone. A joke about a Republican getting caught in a
scandal. A glowing reference to Michelle Obama.”
And would you like to hear about another unsafe zone? Let’s go on a
city tour. Recently, a newlywed couple I know traveled to New York to
spend a few special days. They took an open-air bus tour, and the guide
peppered his commentary with anti-Republican jibes. For example, as the
bus cruised up Sixth Avenue, he pointed out Fox News, calling it “the
voice of evil.” That certainly says to conservative-leaning couples,
Of course, everyone has a right to an opinion, but people often confuse
what you have a right to do with what’s right to do. (I heard Bill
Bennett say that, long ago.) I love opinions, heaven knows, including
political opinions: but they have their place.
Last winter, wearing a music critic’s hat, I covered a chamber concert
in New York’s Weill Recital Hall. A composer mounted the stage to give
a talk about a piece of his, about to be played. Any talking at a
concert is bad enough: but our guy duly inveighed against Bush and
hailed the new president, Obama. I mentioned this, not in a concert
review — which would have been perfectly within bounds, as the composer
had injected politics into the evening — but on a political blog.
Our guy wrote me a profane e-mail saying (in essence), “Hey, no fair!
You’re supposed to be a music critic. Why don’t you do your job?” I
replied that the same question could be asked of him. To his credit, he
took the point, and most graciously.
There are people who like walls of separation and those who don’t. I
like my sports, music, food, etc., politics-free. Others think that
this is some sort of moral or civic negligence, or simply naivety.
Laura Ingraham wrote a book about entertainers and politics called Shut
Up & Sing. When I look at such publications as Sports Illustrated,
I think of a variation: “Shut up and write about sports!”
Care for a final nugget? A football columnist at the Philadelphia Daily
News wrote, “The [Eagles’] offensive numbers are poor, but if you
really want a scary, my-daughter-married-a-Republican moment, take out
the Detroit game and look at them again.” I’m sure that Republican
readers in Philly enjoyed that fleck of mud in their morning cereal.
Look, I could provide examples of these violations and intrusions till
the cows come home. When I revived this issue on NRO, I received an
e-mail from a sportswriter at a major daily. He said, “Dear Sir: What
the [rhymes with “duck”] are you talking about? Love, The sportswriting
community.” Take an honest look at sportswriting in America today and
you’ll see. Love, Me.
Victor probably doesn't know about any of this because he's so
disdainful of American professional sports across the board. For the
same reason, he probably doesn't know about BigHollywood.com
writers and actors and reviewers of conservative bent daily expose the
pop culture propaganda offensive underway in the movies and television
shows; Safe Zone violations are routine and even epidemic here, too,
even if Victor is too remotely superior to notice them.
Which also means that he's stuck his head in a place where it's
unlikely he'll be able to perceive or draw hope from the building
Resistance that's a sign of hope among conservatives of all ages, but
most notably among youngsters.
Ya think he's a fan of Fox News's surprise 3:00 am hit Redeye
? And Redeye
self-deprecatory and deadly satirist Greg
? No. I don't think so
Ya think he's aware of the kids who are doing battle on behalf of
conservatism in the up-to-the-minute realms of indie films and YouYube?
(Although, to be fair, even some old conservatives
who haven't taken their ball and bat and gone home are also active in
Let's face it. If you're clinging to Eric Severaid and High Noon
there's every chance you'd completely miss the new Toxic Twins (So you
even remember the old
?) of conservatism, Zo
and Stephen Crowder
These guys are absolutely kicking ass in the new media. Via YouTube.
Heard of that, Victor, have you? Or what Joe
has to say? Or this
? (Which is
part of this
you stick-in-the-mud.) Or is it more comforting to loll in the memory
of David Brinkley? uh, yeah, thought so.
There are also filmmakers. Seeking distribution in a hostile
environment. Which you wouldn't know about if you're not paying
attention to the, uh, sewer of pop culture:
What's really important about all this for all the old
head-in-the-sanders is that this kind of counterculture resistance did
NOT exist in the supposedly "good old days" the fiftyish set are now
consoling themselves with. If they think it did, they're delusional.
Yes, we're living in the worst of times. The entire nation is under
attack. But we're also living in the best of times. Pop culture is now
high-tech and people, particularly young people, are
fighting back. Insist on being
an old, aggrieved asshole at your own risk (JS..." And, yup the Yankees
suck.) Or jerk your
hermit mentality back into the here and now and join the Resistance.
We've never faced greater challenges. But we've never had more potent
tools to fight back.
Listening to Chopin nocturnes and dreaming about Grace Kelly hardly
seems the right response.
Scrivers, everyone. Those of you who don't understand the reference are
free to go back to your TCM marathon of the day.
HEY. I think I just got's me a Peace Prize...
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
I don't know,
don't know 'bout Jessica's big booty... uh,
. Victor Davis Hanson is at pains today to tell us that
he's lost track of popular culture. He pretends that he's not proud of
the fact, but every paragraph bristles with both pride and disdain. Behold
of a Cultural Drop-out
I have some confessions to make, not because any of you readers are
particularly interested in my views; but rather because I think some of
you are in the same boat: Have you stopped reading, listening,
watching, and paying attention to most of what now passes for
establishment public or popular culture? I am not particularly proud of this
quietism (many Athenians did it in the early 4th century BC and Romans
by the late 3rd AD), but not really ashamed of it either.
Shut up and see a
Take Hollywood protocol—make a big movie, hype it, show it at the mall
multiplex. But I went to one movie the last year. Maybe three in the
last four years. There is not much choice here—car crashes, evil white
men killing the innocent, some gay or feminist heroes fending off
club-bearing white homophobic Mississippians in pick-ups. Or you can
endure the American war-machine kidnapping, torturing, or murdering
even more of the helpless abroad—with Robert Redford, glassed down,
tweed in display, or snarly George Clooney sermonizing, like the
choruses of Euripides’ tragedies.
The usual themes—some evil corporation is destroying something (fill in
the blanks: the environment, the neighborhood, the small town, etc.),
some CIA conspiracy is out to ruin a crusading heroic journalist, or
some brave professor or writer is exposing a massive cover-up—are,
well, boring, even with the sex, the blow-em-up explosions, and some
nice scenery. (And all this from a corporate Hollywood—reliant on the
security of the American military, crass in its high tastes and
destructive in its behavior, and all the while profit and status
obsessed! [The world of Halliburton
makes the world safe for Botox?])
If it is not all that, we get instead some neurotic suburban
psychodrama about a senseless midlife crisis of some aging yuppies,
wondering whether their empty lives really have meaning. Then there are
always the “action” movies about tomb-robbing, treasure-hunting, or
Zombie killing, but even they try to mask emptiness with a
politically-correct throw-away line now and then. Can’t they make one
movie of the Lewis and Clark expedition or Lepanto, and one less with
Tom Hanks as the anguished and caring postmodern man?
Why not DVDs?
If I watch DVDs, they surely are not of recent vintage. I couldn’t tell you a single release in the
current most rented 100. I
rewatch instead Westerns—Peckinpaugh, [sic] John Ford, the classics
like Shane and High Noon, the greats like Henry Fonda, James
Stewart, Lee Marvin, George C. Scott, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster,
Paul Newman, John Wayne, etc., and, as I wrote a few months ago, almost
anything with a brilliant, but now forgotten character actor such as a
Jack Palance, Richard Boone (cf. Cicero Grimes in Hombre), Ben Johnson,
or Warren Oates—if only for their accents, ad-libbed lines, and
carriage. Only the greats like DeNiro or Pacino, or a Robert Duvall,
Tommy Lee Jones, and a few others (a Hackman, Eastwood, or Hopkins)
approximate the old breed. (A Mickey Rourke, Gary Oldman, or John
Malkovich are at least originals and, like real people, look the worse
for it). So I find myself replaying
something like a Das Boot or Breaker Morant, or supposedly corny 1930s
and 1940s classics like How Green Was My Valley or The Best Years of
Our Lives. If I want to watch a film that failed at the
box-office, I’ll take One-Eyed Jacks or Major Dundee or Pat Garret and
Billy the Kid; their failures are better than today’s “successes”.
Today’s under thirty American male actors sound like they either have
sinus congestion, or are trying to convince someone they are not as
effeminate as their contrived appearance otherwise suggests. If my life
depended on it, I could not identify any of the current leading
actresses. The country needs a screen presence of a Burt Lancaster or
Frederic March and it gets instead a Ben Affleck or Leo DiCaprio.
Musical Time Warp
Ditto music. I don’t know the name of a single rapper. Don’t follow
rock anymore. Don’t want to. I like a
Mark Knopfler or Coldplay, but mostly missed music’s 21st century. I’m
so lost that I think a Bob Seeger and Bruce Hornsby are contemporary
mega-stars, though I couldn’t identify a recent hit of either. I
haven’t seen any of the kids write as well as Springsteen or Van
Morrison. One Otis Redding had more talent than the entire
Who is Katie
Add in television. I haven’t watched a network newscast in 10 years. If I want to see a 60-Minutes hit piece,
I’ll watch a You Tube video where the amateurs are far more interesting
and honest about their ambush journalism. Do the CBS hit-men still try
to jump in and cross-up some poor official, as he stammers while they
hammer on? Is Andy Rooney still around?
I don’t know which anchor is where. I bump into them in their re-aired
interviews like the Couric/Palin disaster or Gibson with his eyeglasses
on his nose as if were a professor of Romance Languages grilling Sarah
the Idaho co-ed, but other than that could care less.
I’d take an old paleo-liberal like
Eric Sevareid, John Chancellor, or David Brinkley any day over the most
conservative on NBC or CNN. The old guys had style, even class;
today’s crowd spends more on teeth-whiteners than on books.
Obama is perfect for the age. Like Bush, he had the Ivy-League degrees;
unlike Bush he had the pretension that they meant something, even
though in his mind the Berlin Airlift, the German language, Auschwitz,
World War II, Cordoba, the geography of the U.S., almost anything
dealing with history, geography, literature, or well, knowledge in
general—well all that is stuff that others less relevant than he
learned in college.
I like C-Span and have always admired Brian Lamb. I used to be a big
fan of PBS and PR, but no more. The laudable shows are far outweighed
by the race/class/gender agendas, usually someone in a soft drone,
talking scarcely above a whisper, about some new heretofore unnoticed
pathology of the US military, corporation, or government (pre-Obama)
that a particularly angry but heroic professor or investigative
reporter is going to enlighten us about.
Next confession: I have not watched a single NFL game -- including the
Super bowl -- for more than 10 minutes during the last decade. In the
1980 [sic] I was a big fan. I could not be pried loose from the 49ers
and Bill Walsh or Jim Plunkett’s numerous Raider come-backs. Out here
Deacon Jones, Dick Bass, and John Brodie [sic] were sorta football
greats. Not now such heroes. Somewhere
around 1990-5 everything went wrong with the big money, big hype, and
Maybe it is the airs of the sportscasters, and the pseudo-intellectual
exegesis of the “analysts.” (I’ll take a Russ Hodges or Dizzy Dean any
day, or, god help me, a young Howard Cosell before his decline in the
Clay/Ali days). The constant criminality of the players and the
egocentric outbursts didn’t help. Then there’s the pretensions [sic] of
the buccaneer owners, and the extravaganza of the spectacle of the
Roman arena, all that turned me off it—despite the courage and drama
involved in football, and the science and tension of baseball. But one
can find that watching high school or college sports.
Ditto the NBA. I have not watched a complete game in 15 years. Here too
I could not name 5 current NBA players. I quit with the old
Lakers/Celtics rivalries of the late 1970s and 1980s. (But then I have
never played a video game either, and the two now seem to the distant
ignorant bystander as about the same thing).
I watched 2 baseball games on television the last 3 years. Again, the
melodrama of the sportscasters and writers (a slick Bob Costas as
would-be Aristotle in his analyses and Sophocles in the supposed
serious tragedy of his modulating voice) assumes the players are
Olympians when of course they more or less resemble ego-centric
Just a dozen selfless players, who keep quiet when they score, give
credit to others when they pitch a shut-out, or pass rather than shoot
could help things. I don’t mind the constant therapy of the
coverage—the personal interest story of the athlete who lost his mother
during training, who conquered polio as a child, or who saved a little
boy from a surging stream—but it does not make up for the absence of
manners and sportsmanship.
Like most of America I do not read the New York Times -- maybe once at
an airport this year, but not more. (The only Times headlines I see are
in history books, and pre-1970 they were quite good). It’s not that
just I [sic] get most of my news on the Internet, but rather there is
no there at the Times. A void. The
front-page stories are thinly disguised op-eds and poorly written and
sourced, and the op-eds are not disguised first-person rants by Dowd,
Krugman, Herbert, Rich, etc. largely embarrassing confessions from a
group of well-off, well-connected, status-obsessed elites
lecturing the nation outside New York and Los Angeles on its various
sorts of illiberality. Life is too short for ground-hog day reads, the
same angst over and over.
Nobel Prizes I stopped noticing a while back. Literature and Peace
Prizes are awarded mostly on either race/class/gender considerations or
utopian pacifism; that a Toni Morison won and a John Updike or Philip
Roth (neither of whom I was all that fond of) never did, says all you
need to know.
Petraeus is a true peace-maker and saved thousands of lives; Carter was
not, and his timidity gave the green light to the Soviets who killed
over a million in Afghanistan. If Al Gore had found a way to allow the
world’s poor to survive malaria epidemics through DDT spraying, or
invented a miracle strain of rice, or a new long-life battery, then one
could justify the peace prize for world ecological achievement, but not
for screaming about global
warming climate change while making $100 million in medieval
offset penances as the climate cools down the last decade.
So what’s left of the life of American culture? I try to read novels, the older the
better—Knut Hamsun, Conrad, James Jones. Historians like a Gibbon,
Prescott, or Churchill, they could write. I read everything John Keegan
writes. Martin Gilbert is excellent. Andrew Roberts is as well. I’ve
reread Weinberg’s A World at Arms twice this year. The
memoirists like E.B. Sledge are riveting. I review a lot of books on
classics—the best are not written by academic classists. One does
what one can.
The Thin Veneer
A final, odd observation. As I have dropped out of contemporary
American culture and retreated inside some sort of 1950s time-warp, in
a strange fashion of compensation for non-participation , I have tried
to remain more engaged than ever in the country’s political and
military crises, which are acute and growing. One’s distancing from the
popular culture of movies, TV, newspapers, and establishment culture
makes one perhaps wish to overcompensate in other directions, from the
trivial to the important.
Lately more than ever I try to obey the speed limit, overpay my taxes,
pay more estimates and withholding than I need, pay all the property
taxes at once, pick up trash I see on the sidewalk, try to be overly
polite to strangers in line, always stop on the freeway when I see an
elderly person or single woman with a flat, leave 20% tips, let cars
cut me off in the parking lot (not in my youth, not for a second), and
patronize as many of Selma’s small businesses as I can (from the
hardware store to insurance to cars). I don’t necessarily do that out
of any sense of personal ethics, but rather because in these
increasingly crass and lawless times, we all have to try something,
even symbolically, to restore some common thread to the frayed veneer
of American civilization, to balance
the rips from a Letterman attack on Palin’s 14-year-old daughter or a
Serena Williams’s threat to a line judge, or the President’s
communication director’s praise of Mao, civilization’s most lethal mass
murderer, or all of what I described above.
I don’t fathom the attraction of a Kanye West (I know that name after
his outburst), a David Letterman, Van Jones, Michael Moore (all
parasitic on the very culture they mock), or the New York Review of
Books or People Magazine (they seem about the same in their world
view). So goodbye to all that.
Horace called this reactionary nostalgia the delusion of a laudator
temporis acti, the grouchy praiser of times past for the sake of being
past. Perhaps. But I see the trend of many ignoring the old touchstones
of popular entertainment and life as a rejection of establishment
culture—a disbelief in, or utter unconcern with, what elites now
offer as valuable on criteria that have nothing to do with merit or
value. I was supposed to listen to
Dan Rather because Murrow once worked for CBS? I am to go to the Cinema
16 because Hollywood once made Gone With the Wind or On the Waterfront?
I don’t particularly like the idea that I want little to do with
contemporary culture. But I feel it nonetheless—and sense many of you
do as well. [boldface added]
I have great respect for Victor Davis Hanson. But I have some problems
with this essay. Big
problems. I have no objection to the hermit reaction, that desire to
pull away from the tawdry everyday world and go fishing in the
hinterland. I fight against that impulse on a daily basis myself. But
why do I do that? Why do I even get into fights about it with borderline
younger than myself?
Because if you're of a certain age and education, it's so e-e-e-easy
to withdraw into
superior isolation. Today's technology makes it a cinch. You can fall
back to the favorite books of your youth or philosophical preference.
You can rent old movies, old radio programs, use YouTube for the access
it provides to classical concerts and whatever outdated pop music you
can tolerate, and all the while you feel as if you're up to date but
making a reasoned choice to disdain what's worst in popular culture. So
you're not a stick in the mud; you're just tasteful and above it all.
Which is a lie. It's also running away, a cowardly evasion of
responsibility. There's no point in being educated and having knowledge
of the supposedly finer things in life unless you're prepared to use
that knowledge in conversations with those who don't have it. Wisdom is
not defined as sitting in an empty room admiring yourself for what you
know that no one else does. Wisdom is rather the act of daring that
makes an old man stand up and call youngsters to account in his terms and
Hanson's confession strikes home with me for three reasons. First,
because I recognize all the "comfort culture" he's retreating to. Which
would bore me stiff if it were my
only input in this exciting day and age. As an educated person, I'm
delighted with the technological now; as most of you know, I'm
struggling to find ways of sharing my old-time learning and experience
in the new multimedia environment. When I fail, as I often do, I take
it as a sign that I need to do more, learn more, manipulate available
technology better, not turn my back on it.
Second, because if he's really happy with amputating himself from
day-to-day life in the United States the way it's actually being lived,
he's no longer trustworthy when he talks politics -- that is, the
way big government decisions are going to be perceived and responded to
by "the people." Up front with this essay, he's ceded any authority he
might otherwise have had in predicting how people might react to this
or that. If he ventures an opinion on it, he's merely engaging in
fantasy. When he speaks of public opinion or traditional preferences,
he's engaged in an act of nostalgic fiction. He may be quaint, and even
right on some level about the issues themselves, but he's neither
accurate nor relevant about what's going to happen in the political
Third, he's dying
determination to turn a blind eye to the present and occupy some
supposedly superior realm in the past is also a decision to stop living
altogether. Imagine the high-toned parlor of the past. You can furnish
it however you like, but no matter how beautifully you do it, you
inevitably become Miss Havisham, a mummifying crone in a yellowed
Hanson's essay is a careless piece, carelessly done. He knows he's
confessing things he shouldn't, disqualifying things.The movies and
books he regards as classic wouldn't be classic at all without a
contrast between them and their present-day would-be substitutes.
That's why -- in this ode to the past -- Hanson keeps trying
to reference current things
-- Wink, Wink, I'm not quite
as archaic as I'm making out -- except that he really is
as archaic as he fears he is.
It's not true that everything new is inferior to everything old. He's
asking us, begging
fact, to reassure him that this fallacy is an assumption to be trusted.
It can't be. And neither can he.
Victor Davis Hanson may be smart, well informed, educated, and wise.
But he can't be trusted. He's chosen to be an old man instead, boasting
of his ignorance about the
lives of the very same people he wants to follow his lead. Ain't gonna
Good movies have been made since the 'High Noon' whose history he
appears not to know. Good books have been written. Good, even great,
feats are being enacted in American sports, even among the professional
crybabies he sweeps away in a sentence or two. Good music has
been produced, and it's being played in humvees in foreign theaters by
"kids" who are products of the pop culture Hanson derides so pridefully
and completely. How did that
happen? He doesn't know. Deliberately.
The only thing that's sure about all this is that Hanson is telling us
not to look to him
explanations. I'm okay with that. Is he?
Reality Check. Who's too much of a professor not to know about Jessica
Simpson and the grief she's received for being, uh, "fat"? Haven't
heard about this, Victor? Proof that you're living in a cave. Not
Plato's. Just a cave. Disconnecting from pop culture also deprives you
of the opportunity to use your authority to do something decent and practically
good -- like
reaffirming the value of plump women as desirable wives and mothers.
Especially wives and mothers who actually agree
with your politics. Because
But you're too much of a snob to weigh in on such a low topic, right?
All entranced with Grace Kelly in High Noon, are we?
F A N T A S Y.
Bottom line. I'm older than you are, Victor. I know who Kanye West is.
I also know who Sophocles and Euripides are. And I know that the size
of Jessica Simpson's ass is as much a matter of national debate as
Obama's healthcare plan. And why.
can't say that. Which is
why your Ph.D. just went south in terms of relevance. And why your whole essay reveals you to be pretty much of an ignorant, condescending ass.