April 2009

Put the blog down, Sir. Put the blog down…


I guess Gerrit wants to make sure his share of front-page headlines doesn’t decrease:

Wilders said his new film would focus on the threat of Islam and the impact ‘Islamisation’ has had on Europe and the United States. The film would also focus on the principle of freedom of speech and should be completed before the end of 2010, he added.

I, for one, am shaking. Not necessarily due to the overwrought notion that somehow the West is being “Islamisized.” More at thought of the world of “documentary” film, defiled by another of these pale offerings.

Vodpod videos no longer available.
Michael Bay’s Show West Award clip reel via Risky Business Blog

Crossposted at Weickgenant.com:

Creating art, and disseminating it through media, are never easy tasks, even in the best economic times. And in times like these, the job gets even harder. So the slightest additional obstacle can seem suddenly insurmountable.

So it can’t be easy for Radio Papesse, an independent Web radio emitter in Tuscany, to deal with what happened to them shortly after an assignment into the Appennine Mountains. Coming back home, as they stopped in a cafe for some panini, Coming back home, as they stopped in a cafe for some panini, much of their equipment was stolen from their car.

If you give Radio Papesse a listen, you’ll discover very quickly why they’re worth sustaining. Here’s who they are:

Radio Papesse is the first and only art and culture radio born within an Italian public Contemporary Art Center. … On the back of our past in a public institution, since January 2009 Radio Papesse has moved forward indipendently and it’s now a non-profit cultural association. What is going to be unchanged is our will to make you listen to the sounds, the voices and the news from the contemporary art world.

Stop by if you can, show them some support and listen to some of their excellent programming (it’s multilingual, there is English-language programming). My friend Cristiano Magi, a programmer on the show, assures me that every form of support, including simple word-of-mouth, makes a difference.

Now, for some lighter fare:


I’ve yet to delve into the now infamous Bybee memo, but by most reasonable accounts it is depressing and abhorrent. Whether the United States engaged in systematic torture or not seems somewhat moot to me now. That we are left debating the nuances between ‘cruel and unusual’ (the latter, to some, being okay) disheartens me. When we must concoct excuses for our bizarre and violent measures we have already lost the battle. When the government has to create torture-speak that obfuscates the nastiness we’ve sadly engaged in, then we are already in a darker place than before, by my account.

I’m of mixed feelings on how President Obama has handled this. Releasing these documents, certainly, is the right step. But coupling this with the apparent exoneration of those involved in these practices leaves me with a feeling of dissatisfaction. If it’s something worth debating in the public sphere, is it not, then, something worth prosecuting? This strikes me as a quasi-admitance of guilt; absent of any real repercussions for the guilty actors.

I suppose you could argue that Obama is playing Gerald Ford here. To open up this sore, here and now, may send an already distraught and sullen nation into a further malaise. Much as Ford was tasked with moving the country forward following the Watergate scnadal (so the story goes, anyway), Obama too must navigate the country back to sunnier shores.

Andrew Sullivan often frustrates and confounds me, but as a writer and and an intellect I respect him very, very much. I consider Andrew somewhat of an authority on this awful subject, and it’s a matter that demands clarity and purpose of mission. I believe he deals well with this internal conflict:

Mukasey and Hayden complain that the president has tied the hands of future presidents in this. Yes, he has. What Obama understands is that what is truly vital is that this dark and shameful period not become a workable precedent. It must be repudiated at the very heart of the American political system, and removed like the cancer it is.

The question of prosecution remains. It’s a painful decision. My view is that those who pay the legal price should be, first and foremost, those who authorized this at the highest levels. My view is also that it is a travesty that the Abu Ghraib reservists were prosecuted, and yet far, far more culpable people are claiming it would be too divisive to prosecute them. My view is that no one is above the law, and that when a society based on law prosecutes the powerless and excuses the powerful, it is corroding its own soul.

But my view is also that the president has acted wisely in this. As president in wartime, he knows how wounding it would be to engage in this kind of activity right now. But he has also ensured that a process of transparency continue. A full accounting of all of this – by people from both parties with real power to investigate and report (a 9/11 style commission, in other words) would be a natural next step. There is still much we don’t know. It should take its time to get everything right. Justice can be slow as long as it is guaranteed. From the president, some well-chosen words he clearly wrote himself:

At a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in America’s ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence. That is why we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future. The United States is a nation of laws. My Administration will always act in accordance with those laws, and with an unshakeable commitment to our ideals. That is why we have released these memos, and that is why we have taken steps to ensure that the actions described within them never take place again.

Let me repeat the critical two words in that paragraph: Never. Again.

Earlier this year I wrote a rant on the current state of the horror film. In today’s copy of The Independent, Johann Hari does much of the same, only a thousand times better. Hari writes:

Movies aren’t a cerebral medium; they are visceral. The first people to see a film screamed in terror and ran from the room – and these movies bring us back to that first, primal response.


All the years I have loved horror films, I have asked myself: why? Why do I like watching this stuff, when what it represents is so foul? Is horror morally corrupting after all?

This is the question at the heart of the best horror film – and quite possibly the best British film – ever made: Peeping Tom, released in 1960. It follows a serial killer who films his own murders of young women and obsessively rewatches them. The film constantly forces the viewer to ask: why is he watching this? What pleasure can he get? Are we like him? It was such a disturbing question that the film was pulled from the cinemas in a great national retch, and the career of the genius director Michael Powell ended overnight.

Aristotle believed that by experiencing the terrifying vicariously through monster-stories, we are purged of our fears and hatreds – and our desire to act on them in the real world. It is a safety valve. In Greek mythology, Perseus has a polished shield that enables him to look indirectly at the Gorgon – and thus slay it. Are horror films our shield of Perseus, enabling us to see our monsters, and wipe them out? Is my grandmother so gentle precisely because she can exorcise her natural sadistic impulses before a screen – and is she an exception among horror fans?

As I gaze out over my small mountain of horror DVDs and contemplate watching The Evil Dead for a 10th time (highlight: a woman is raped by a demonic tree), I wonder: when we peer into the dark, do we become darker – or do we leave lighter?

Read the whole thing.

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