There's a depressing, not to mention inadvertently funny, article in the July 19 Nation that's worth examining for anyone who's fascinated, as I am, by the left's effeteness and milksop inefficacy. How do these people presume to accomplish anything of worth if their magazines keep defining themselves with articles like this one? Entitled "Did Buffy Do It?" the article, by Tara Zahra, is another in the genre of ruminations on the violence that characterizes youth entertainment. "A teenager runs away from home to stop her father from forcing her to marry him," Zahra writes at the top. "A man rapes a woman while she sleeps, who then bears twins without waking up," and so on. Then, irrelevantly and predictably, Zahra tries to pull the rug out from under her readers, informing them that these plots aren't from Sega games or Saturday morning cartoons, but rather "from fairy tales...that were all the rage in the eighteenth century."
Sure. It's always been thus, and always will be. How crypto-conservative. So just because old fairytales were morbid and violent, too, we shouldn't question what the culture industry's always pumping out into the world today? It's so crucial for Zahra to maintain a pose of knowing sophistication in her cultural politics?no provincial she?that she'll go to any lengths to do so, even to the point of implicitly apologizing for the corporations. If moralists are against capitalism, after all, then capitalism's got to be good. Nice "left" we've got here.
But it's toward the end of the article that it becomes dismally amusing. "Yet the media," Zahra writes, "may indeed be useful in helping children to deal with the complicated social causes of violent behavior. There are creative programs that teach skills and values like tolerance and conflict resolution."
Wait. It's 1978 again. You're maybe six years old. You're consuming Sesame Street or some other propagandistic American tripe in the rec room. Your old man's off rebirthing. Gods'-eyes dangle in the solarium. Your mother's possibly, she's starting to suspect, a lesbian. Andean flute music over the hi-fi; consciousness-raising in the hot tub; Jules Feiffer on the fridge.
The next sentence, though, is the kicker:
"One example is Willoughby's Wonders, a live-action comedy about an urban coed soccer team designed to help kids acquire coping abilities, created by Susan Lin with Alvin Poussaint, both of Harvard Medical School. The pilot aired on Boston public television in 1996, was awarded two regional Emmys and has attracted funding from the Ford Foundation."
I've never heard of Willoughby's Wonders, but it's hard to imagine from the above that more objectionable programming exists: a socializing primer in acceptance sponsored by Harvard University, the government and the Ford Foundation. It's a shame the CIA couldn't get involved, too.
But Zahra's not done. "Teaching kids media literacy is another useful tactic," she writes. "What do they like about the much maligned Quake or Doom? Why does the local news lead with the latest murder? In Maryland, media literacy sessions co-sponsored by the Maryland Education Department and Discovery Communications (owner of the Discovery Channel) will be presented in public schools next year."
Stunning. So now kids should have to explain to the Ford Foundation, or to whomever, why they like to play video games? Again: nice "left" we've got here. Kids already, and correctly, distrust the right, with its curfews and its moralism. Stuff like this should hip them to the fact that they shouldn't trust the so-called "left" either. (And actually, what's the effective difference here?) No wonder kids are destructive. You read this stuff and wish they'd ride the train to the correct neighborhoods and be more so. IRT to 72nd St., my young friends. Bring spraypaint.
Plus, kids are already media literate. That's the thing about kids in 1999. That's why they always disdainfully reject the sort of trash that people like Zahra would foist upon them, and go back to listening to Korn and blowing each other's heads off in video games. (And by the way, neither of those activities, unlike watching pious suburban-liberal programming, is incompatible with being intellectually curious.) Sometimes, when kids reject effete PBS-style programming?and they always do?they don't only go listen to Korn or only play video games. Sometimes they, like, read books and stuff, and engage other activities that will allow them to acquire the freedom of mind to ignore the Zahras of the world. Zahra's condescension toward young people is mind-boggling.
"The media should take 'personal responsibility,'" she writes in her last paragraph, "for looking beyond marketing tie-ins when developing children's programming. If that proves to be a fleeting impulse, reinstating the federal fund for children's tv might begin to turn things around."
How effete, harmless, conventional, boneless, weak, equivocating and?finally, if you're stupid enough to keep looking to traditional liberals for a viable alternative to wearying, dangerous Bush/Gore centrism?thoroughly depressing.
A poignant scrap of information about President Clinton was reported last week in the London Independent, the Louisville, KY, Courier-Journal and on the AP wire, but it appeared in none of the local New York papers. It's this: Apparently the President has, since 1996, been maintaining a charming little mail correspondence with 14-year-old Meghan Johnson, a Kentucky resident.
According to the July 6 Courier-Journal, Johnson "stood in the bright sun at Blue Grass Airport yesterday morning next to local politicians and business leaders waiting to greet President Clinton, who was making a stop on his way to Eastern Kentucky.
"Meghan, a soon-to-be-freshman at Madison Central High School, was wearing a T-shirt that said, 'First Pen Pal,' and she held another T-shirt for Clinton. Printed on the back were the words: 'Meghan's Pen Pal.'"
Clinton must have been just exhilarated to see young Johnson going public. And she's 14, no less. Well. A lass in the bloom of her pubescence.
The report includes this sad bit: "The blossoming of this unlikely friendship has meant a trip to the Oval Office for Meghan and her family, and for a boy she knew who was dying of cancer. It has led to gifts from Clinton. But what Meghan treasures most are the letters?like a two-page letter he wrote her two days before the House voted to impeach him, when he thanked her for being a loyal friend."
And this one: "They kept up the letter- writing. Meghan would write Clinton about her family and friends and her interest in playing the flute. She said that Clinton would sometimes write about current events, but mainly it was about his interest in playing the saxophone and other personal things that Meghan refuses to discuss."
Thus the melancholy Bill Clinton: the country's loneliest, most miserable middle-aged wretch; a meatball sprawled over a barstool at some strip-mall happy hour, fantasizing about his daughter's soccer team.
The spring/summer edition of CovertAction Quarterly is available now and it contains its predictable proportion of dorm-style Third World-romanticist claptrap. Fully 19 pages out of 75, for example, are devoted to articles detailing the injustices done by various law enforcement and governmental agencies to MOVE, Tupac Shakur and Mumia Abu-Jamal?who happens to be the only human being on the planet capable of making me accept the justice of the death penalty.
But, just as predictably, there's some good sense in the magazine as well. Diana Johnstone, in an article called "NATO's Parallel Wars," provides a concise alternative history of the Serbian/Albanian conflict, writing: "Before NATO bombing, there was no Serbian 'ethnic cleansing' of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. Rather, there were Serbian police operations against the armed 'Kosovo Liberation Army' which for over a year had been assassinating both policemen and private citizens, including uncooperative Albanians. The KLA attacks were a classic provocation, designed to trigger the police action, which in turn was falsely described as attacks on the Albanian population. The casualties on all sides were in the hundreds (the '2,000' victims figure put out by the KLA is surely an exaggeration, and even so, scarcely even the beginning of a 'holocaust'). Many homes were destroyed, because rural Albanian houses are built for a double function: dwelling and defense. This stems from the blood feud tradition. It is visible. Albanian houses are often walled compounds, with small windows on upper floors."
And Mark Cook sums up the matter nicely like this: "There is no mystery where NATO's, and the U.S.'s, 'Drang nach Osten,' or drive to the East, is now aimed: at the Caspian Sea. Steven Lee Myers reported in the New York Times March 15 that the U.S. Army is training for a new post-Cold War role: 'protecting' Caspian Sea oil."
Cook goes on: "The fact that NATO, instead of disappearing after the Cold War, is actually growing in global reach, scope and aggressiveness, has revealed what many long suspected: that NATO, falsely labeled a defensive alliance, is and always was a military organization aimed at seizing control of markets, natural resources, and cheap labor markets on behalf of capitalist transnational corporations. That, in essence, has been its only business since 1989."
There's nothing new there, except perhaps for the tantalizing bit about the potential for U.S. mischief in the oil-bonanza Caspian Sea region. But it's precisely stated.
But oh boy, is Abu-Jamal a dumbbell or what? CovertAction Quarterly proudly includes an anti-NATO screed by the celebrated convict, and it comes as a rather dispiriting affirmation of your worst cynical impulses. In other words, you're reminded that there's a good reason why the guy's inevitably referred to as a "celebrated" journalist in the sympathetic press and by the people who hit you up for pro-Mumia signatures on the F train: He's dumb. Or to put it even less charitably: He's black and "leftist" (which is to say that he murders members of the working class). Mumia writes things like this: "[The Kosovo action is] about establishing who's 'boss' in the next century. It's about keeping Russia in its place. It's about keeping the European Union under the thumb of Wall Street."
Come on, Mumia. God forbid that someone would want to maintain a profitable balance of power toward Russia, which hasn't exactly acquitted itself like a gentleman these last thousand years or so. Does Mumia know anything about Russia?
Second of all, you wonder how childish a grasp of history and culture you've got to possess in order to conceive of the technocrats who preside over the European Union as downtrodden peasants squirming under Wall Street's plutocratic heel. Perhaps he thinks all Europeans wear wooden shoes and churn butter. Dude, they're preindustrial. Norman Mailer should buy Mumia a jailhouse subscription to National Geographic. This is the great literary mind of the political prisoner we keep hearing so much about?
This Saturday witnessed another Olympian New York Times exercise in confronting the margins of the city it calls home. Or not even the margins, actually, but just homey old Tompkins Square Park?which, for at least the last seven years, has existed well within the warmth spread by affluent young white New York's campfire.
But the Times obviously considers the park marginal, so let's cede them the point. The article, by Douglas Martin and entitled "Disparate Crowds Find a Park They Call Home," amounted to a good thumbnail guide of Times attitudes when it ventures out to cover the demos.
First, there was the Times' tendency to take excruciatingly seriously people whom would better be approached with skepticism. It's hard to tell if this tendency is a function of condescension, or of touristic innocence, or of mandarin generosity (remember back in college, when they'd drag you in to attend some mandatory lecture by some guy from a black nationalist cult to tell you what a racist little devil you were, and what he said was really incogent and stupid, but you couldn't laugh even when he started ranting about your "jewniversity" because he was, after all, a black nationalist?) or of a combination of all three. Second, there's the reassuring paper-of-record desire to strain to make sense of?to domesticate, to cozily narrativize?human violence, perversity, randomness and sheer stupidity. Both of these elements are present in the following passage, in which the Times makes a contretemps amongst drug-fazed maniacs sound like a point-of-order dispute at the annual plenary session of the American Philological Society.
"Others defended the dead man, Joseph Radu, Jr., 44, saying he was decent," writes Martin, who's talking to park regulars about the murder. "'If he had anything, he'd throw you a dollar,' said a man who calls himself Thai Stix. Mr. Stix is the unofficial 'mayor' of this bleary-eyed, but remarkably affable aggregation, arriving most days at 6 a.m., when the park opens, and leaving at midnight when it closes."
Mr. Stix? I love when the Times adds that ennobling honorific: Mr. Shithead, interviewed by phone, insisted that his punk-rock group is indeed entitled to NEA funding. Monsieur Stix! The article continues:
"The principal discussion was whom to blame for the killing. The men and one leather-clad prostitute who joined the conversation for a few minutes said the two men charged with beating Mr. Radu to death had been shooting spitballs at people for months.
"Last Tuesday, according to the park bench denizens, the two men hit Mr. Radu with a soggy piece of wadded-up paper, and he shouted a racial epithet at the men, who are black. Some said they thought the two accused men were to blame. Others held that the racial epithet justified a violent response, with one suggesting that a timely apology could have saved Mr. Radu's life."
You see? The scene in question is obviously characterized by sheer, tongue-dribbling, chemical-stoked, cackling battiness, schizophrenia and time-warping insanity. These people Martin's talking to should be either helped institutionally or left alone. But the Times tries to normalize the madness. Which is its Olympian mandate of course, but still, it's kind of funny sometimes. "Tompkins Square Park," Martin later intones, "in an odd way demonstrates the tolerance?and the strains on tolerance?of a polyglot city."
And you thought it was just a good place to shoot hoops and score weed.