Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Playwright Edward Albee argues that what separates us from animals isn't our ability to use tools or possess a soul -- it's our desire to create art:

I hold that we are the only animal that makes art, and I'm convinced that this is part of the evolutionary process. We all used to have a tail, you know. Not a collective one, you understand, but we still have a jut of bone at the base of our spine called the coccyx, and that is the vestigial remnant of our tails. You still have this jut of bone; don't look now, but take it as we must so much on faith. To simplify just a little bit, what happened is this: Somewhere along the line in the evolutionary process, our tails fell off and we grew art.
For most writers, this would be a strong enough point, but Albee goes further, chiding us to understand the repercussions in a society where art is no longer valued:

[B]roadly speaking, the [artists] we rightly put up on pedestals have less influence on the mind and morality of this country than their intellectual and creative inferiors. We know it is commerce that determines this, which equates popularity with excellence. But I warn you, if the finest minds and talents cease to matter in the larger cultural picture, we are in serious trouble, and our culture is in serious decline.

Monday, May 22, 2006

the best weapon against terrorism? scorn

Professor J. Michael Waller has an interesting suggestion on how to win the War on Terrorism. When engaging an enemy whose main weapon is fear, he writes, you must remove Al Qaeda's ability to inspire terror. In other words, you need to mock them, which the U.S. military did to great effect by releasing those humiliating outtakes from Abu Musab Zarqawi's latest video.

To most Americans, ridiculing terrorists might seem trivial, even sophomoric, as a weapon of war. But dictators and terrorists, being unable to function in the free market of ideas, need propagandists to control (not merely spin) their public images. They require obedience or acquiescence -- a fear factor that cannot long coexist with put-downs and snickering.
Intellectually, the argument makes a certain amount of sense. Of course, it also calls to mind this exchange from Woody Allen's Manhattan:

Isaac Davis: Has anybody read that Nazis are gonna march in New Jersey? Y'know, I read this in the newspaper. We should go down there, get some guys together, y'know, get some bricks and baseball bats and really explain things to them.

Party Guest: There is this devastating satirical piece on that on the Op Ed page of the Times, it is devastating.

Isaac Davis: Well, a satirical piece in the Times is one thing, but bricks and baseball bats really gets right to the point.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

getting people to see united 93

Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman is only scratching the surface of a worthy debate, but he raises a good point about the so-called "small-scale success" of the terrific, harrowing docudrama, United 93. Was it, in fact, a bad idea to make the movie seem like such a tough night at the theater?

All [the media's] talk of ''lowered expectations'' may have been an accurate barometer of United 93's ultimate fortunes, but it had the effect of marginalizing the movie before it was even released -- making it sound like something that no ''normal'' American would ever want to see. In a sense, many of us in the media became enablers, telling our viewers and readers, in essence, ''It's okay. Movies aren't supposed to be this painful.''
I also can't help but wonder if lack of stars didn't help lessen the film's visibility.