Daily Archives: July 7, 2004

Brando Redux

Harold Meyerson in the Washington Post notes that unlike Ray Charles, Brando’s death seemed to go largely unnoticed–or at least unremarked. He thinks he knows why.

Brando’s effect was never confined to the realm of dramatic representation. By virtue of the roles he played and the figure he cut in the first half of the ’50s, he became an icon of the social rebellion of that decade — hipster, beat, at times delinquent, at all times sexual — that evolved into something much bigger and more political in the ’60s and has been part of our national DNA ever since (however much other strains in our national DNA fiercely oppose it). The onscreen biker who, when asked what he was rebelling against, answered “Whattaya got?” was also the off-screen star who rebelled against stardom and the studio system, who shunned premieres, didn’t dress up, and dared to do what half of Hollywood had always wanted to do but lacked the guts: blow off Hedda and Louella. A system that had at its apex Louis B. Mayer, Brando was saying, was somebody’s idea of a joke, and damned if he’d take it seriously.


Brando’s icon had legs. You can see it in the young Bob Dylan, in Bruce Springsteen, even in Eminem — young men whose quest for authenticity is defined against old social mores. Brando added sexual menace and working-class violence, a touch of the outlaw, to the instinctual social criticism of Huck Finn, and young American males — and females — have never gotten over it (even the most establishment among them, or haven’t you seen John Kerry on his Harley?). When the generation of Vietnam War protesters broadened their critique to the whole damn society, they were building, though not consciously and by no means exclusively, on Brando.James Dean joined Brando in shaping this icon; but Dean died just as he was starting out, ever a rebel without a cause. Brando went on, eventually to depict in Don Corleone the most seductive, cunning and deadly patriarch in our national canon. In a sense, “The Godfather” is ’50s Brando stood on its head — a film about the catastrophic failure to escape the confines of family, neighborhood, business and the whole traditional authority against which the ’50s hipsters had raged. Either challenging authority or depicting its rot, Brando remains beyond the pale of official canonization.

America has a long line of artists with whom officialdom has never felt comfortable, of course — from Theodore Dreiser to Allen Ginsberg, from vaudevillians to rappers — but it was Brando who brought rage and rebellion, however unfocused, to the center of the culture. States don’t honor rage and rebellion, and states that engender rage, as America has under George W. Bush, apparently don’t honor the representation of rage, either. That Brando’s death went unmarked by power is a testament not to his failings but to his success; not to his failings but to ours.

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In Honor of charlie

Because we believe in being fair and balanced around here (HAH!), we herewith offer a potent criticism of F 9/11 by the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Mark Morford, who is fun to read even when he’s dead wrong and completely round the bend, as he is here (he must be; he doesn’t agree with me). Morford, as ever, doesn’t mince words.

Oh my God but Michael Moore is infuriating.He has made a massively flawed quasi-documentary that treads dangerously close to excessive propaganda, a movie that never lets BushCo have the slightest hint of breathing space (not that they really deserve it) and he zooms his camera in on the distraught faces of weeping mothers and tormented soldiers and holds the lens there far too long, making you go, OK OK, enough already with the misery porn and the emo-manipulation.

Moore takes numerous cheap shots and finds far too many easy targets among the political elite, and he cleverly edits his footage to make the various politicians he skewers appear even more vacuous and slithery and alien and sad than they normally might, which is already quite a lot, I mean would you just look at Dick Cheney because wow the man is sinister subterfuge incarnate. Shudder.

“Fahrenheit 9/11” is packed with missed opportunities. It argues obvious points far too weakly and never really digs very deeply, or very coherently, into the sinister underbelly of How It All Really Works.

Personally I think Morford is expecting an awful lot from today’s multiplex audience; you gotta remember, thanks to our yellow-belly corporate media this is the first time a lot of them have been exposed to this stuff. An in-depth whack at explaining ‘How It All Really Works’ would have left them utterly mystified.

Still, he makes some good points about how Moore basically let Dems off the hook for ‘roll[ing] over and begg[ing] for scraps when the GOP war machine steamrolled in and demanded the nation cower in fear so they could attack a wimpy volatile hate-filled pipsqueak nation that dared to threaten its global petrochemical interests.’

Enjoy.

PS: I just found out, much to my shock and awe, that F 9/11 opened in my town this weekend. I will get a chance to see it after all, though not til next weekend–if it lasts that long…. Keep your fingers crossed.

One Man’s Civil Right Is Another Man’s Holocaust

By a 51-46 vote, the Senate confirmed J Leon Holmes to the Federal bench. Letting local politics trump both good sense and good policy, Democrats helped put yet another radical conservative into the judicial system.

WASHINGTON — The judicial nomination wars, dormant in recent months, re-emerged Tuesday as the Senate narrowly confirmed one of President Bush’s nominees to the bench who has argued that abortion is akin to the Holocaust and that the Bible requires women to be subservient to men.The Senate voted 51-46 to put J. Leon Holmes on the federal bench in Arkansas after a fierce debate in which some GOP women voted against the president while Democrats from Holmes’ home state of Arkansas spoke of him in glowing terms.

Holmes has a record of saying startling things like his statement that rape victims become pregnant as often as it snows in Miami. He also wrote in 1997 that in a marriage “the woman is to place herself under the authority of the man.”

The inclusion of a crosscurrent of local Arkansas politics provided an unusual twist to the settled routine in which Republican senators regularly argue that a Bush nominee’s strongly held conservative beliefs will have no influence on the candidate’s future performance as a judge: The two Democrats from Arkansas, Sens. Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln, were making that argument on Tuesday.

Pryor argued that despite Holmes’ personal views, he was confident he would be an impartial judge. Lincoln said she had “the utmost confidence” in Holmes’ ability to be fair, saying she had been told so by many prominent Arkansans.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said, “It was quite clear that he had made numerous strident, intemperate and insensitive public statements over the years” on issues including school desegregation, political emancipation and school prayer. “His statements also reveal a callous disregard for the trauma of women who are raped.” Leahy said that while it snowed in Miami once a century, more than 20,000 rape victims are made pregnant each year.

Thanks for your help, guys.

Cheney Campaigning–A Bad Thing?

Are there lobsters in Maine?

A nice piece by Sidney Blumenthal in the Guardian, who thinks Cheney’s showing his contempt for Congress by swearing at Pat Leahy means he’s finally losing his cool.

The self-control that had served him so long broke down in public on June 22 on the floor of the Senate during a photo session. As Cheney was posing with members, Senator Patrick Leahy ambled over. Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the judiciary committee, had recently been critical, along with other Democrats, of no-bid contracts in Iraq granted to Halliburton, the company Cheney had run and in which he still holds stock options and receives deferred compensation (despite his prior claims to the contrary). “Go fuck yourself,” the vice president greeted him.Cheney’s spokesman appeared to deny that those words had been spoken: “That doesn’t sound like language the vice president would use.” But Cheney raced onto Fox News to hail himself as courageous for emotional authenticity. “I expressed myself rather forcefully, felt better after I had done it.” Then he elaborated that his ejaculation was an administration policy: “I think that a lot of my colleagues felt that what I had said badly needed to be said, that it was long overdue.” Leahy’s seeming civility, he explained, was just a charade: “I didn’t like the fact that … he wanted to act like, you know, everything’s peaches and cream.”

Like the corporate oligarch he is, democratic opposition is an annoyance he sees no reason to tolerate, but he had always managed to hide his hatred of it under a corporate ‘nothing fazes me’ veneer that’s beginning toi crack like a Vegas lounge comic’s act on a bad night:

A main source of Cheney’s effectiveness and image of competence has been his ability to avoid putting his cards on the table. But in a moment of pique, he dropped the entire deck. His game face fell and his malicious streak broke through.

Indeed, except it’s not a ‘streak’. Cheney has been a ruthless, malicious corporate tyrant most of his adult life. He terrified underlings at Halliburton and when he was the House Whip–his only elected position ever–he cracked that whip often and hard, usually to ptotect Newt and the other newbie radcons; that was his preferred ‘management style’. Cheney brought his tyrant act with him, and it has helped make him probably the most powerful Vice President in US history. He even assumed the right to vet himself as a candidate:

In 2000, he was put in charge of selecting George W Bush’s running mate, collected the private dossiers of potential candidates and chose himself. Asked who vetted Cheney’s financial records, Karen Hughes, Bush’s communications aide, replied: “Just as with other candidates, Secretary Cheney is the one who handled that.”Bush’s executive branch has been concentrated in Cheney. He has been as powerful as Quayle was irrelevant. It was Cheney who said to UN weapons inspector Hans Blix as he embarked on his mission to Iraq: “We will not hesitate to discredit you”; Cheney who personally tried to force the CIA to give credence to Ahmed Chalabi’s fabricated and false evidence on WMD; Cheney who, along with Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld (to whom he was deputy in the Nixon White House), undermined Secretary of State Colin Powell at every turn; and it is Cheney who is the neo-conservatives’ godfather.

He has been the focal point of the whole Iraq debacle, doing much of what presidents normally do, making a lot of the decisions presidents ordinarily make, siding with the neocon cabal at every turn. There’s a lot of ammunition there for Kerry. That’s probably why there’s speculation that, albatross that he is, Bush might replace Cheney at the convention. Blumenthal says that’s a pipe dream.

Perhaps the grandest political gesture Bush could make would be dropping Cheney. When Cheney bursts through his mask, he reveals not only his own face, but Bush’s. “The idea of dumping Cheney is nuts, makes no sense,” one of Cheney’s political advisers told me. “One of the reasons he’s there is they don’t have someone to anoint as a successor.” After all, where would it leave Jeb Bush in 2008? “Dumping Cheney would be seen as a sign of weakness. Cheney is very popular in the party.” The Bush campaign’s premise depends on turning out the maximum Republican vote. Bush can no more repudiate Cheney than he can repudiate himself.

I think that last sentence is right on the money. The difference between the ‘charm’ of Bush and the quasi-totalitatian disdain of Cheney is a difference of image, not reality. Bush’s demeanor is a cover–a cover that’s also starting to crack under the strain–and an illusion, a device constructed by Hughes and Rove to get him elected that he has repudiated by every act he’s ever taken, every decision he’s ever made, and the kind of people he gathers around him and hands enormous power to. Like Cheney.

Under the skin of public appearances, they’re all telling us to ‘go fuck ourselves’.