Sunday, January 4, 2009

Get Off My Lawn

This post is not about Clint Eastwood's new movie, Gran Torino, which does look awesome, but I haven't seen it, yet. No, this is about an article by Victor David Hanson from November that sounds like it was written by some embittered geriatric who knows that everything used to be better. You know, back in the day. This is when kids called everyone "sir" or "ma'am", Mom stayed at home to raise the kids not to mention having dinner on the table when Dad got home from work, everyone went to (a Christian) church on Sundays, and color had not been invented. Hanson's essay has the ominous title, "Ten Random, Politically Incorrect Thoughts." Let's browse through some of these thoughts and see what nuggets of knowledge Mr. Hanson is imparting on us.

1. Four years of high-school Latin would dramatically arrest the decline in American education. In particular, such instruction would do more for minority youths than all the 'role model' diversity sermons on Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X, Montezuma, and Caesar Chavez put together. Nothing so enriches the vocabulary, so instructs about English grammar and syntax, so creates a discipline of the mind, an elegance of expression, and serves as a gateway to the thinking and values of Western civilization as mastery of a page of Virgil or Livy (except perhaps Sophocles's Antigone in Greek or Thucydides' dialogue at Melos). After some 20 years of teaching mostly minority youth Greek, Latin, and ancient history and literature in translation (1984-2004), I came to the unfortunate conclusion that ethnic studies, women studies--indeed, anything "studies"-- were perhaps the fruits of some evil plot dreamed up by illiberal white separatists to ensure that poor minority students in the public schools and universities were offered only a third-rate education.

On one hand, as someone deliriously passionate about knowledge, I applaud the notion of more classical studies for our youth. On the other hand, I think, what is wrong with teaching kids about people like Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X, Montezuma, and Caesar Chavez? Do we really want to tell kids that their non-white ancestors are not as important as old, white people? I've seen some poorly designed, too-P.C. diversity studies, but that doesn't mean we should scrap all of them. Human history is a wonderfully diverse landscape and only focusing on white people makes it look rather sad and pathetic.
2. Hollywood is going the way of Detroit. The actors are programmed and pretty rather than interesting looking and unique. They, of course, are overpaid (they do to films what Lehman Brothers' execs did to stocks), mediocre, and politicized. The producers and directors are rarely talented, mostly unoriginal--and likewise politicized. A pack-mentality rules. Do one movie on a comic superhero--and suddenly we get ten, all worse than the first. One noble lion cartoon movie earns us eagle, penguin and most of Noah's Arc sequels. Now see poorer remakes of movies that were never good to begin with. I doubt we will ever see again a Western like Shane, the Searchers, High Noon, or the Wild Bunch. If one wishes to see a fine film, they are now usually foreign, such as Das Boot or Breaker Morant. Watching any recent war movie (e.g., Iraq as the Rape of Nanking) is as if someone put uniforms on student protestors and told them to consult their professors for the impromptu script.

Ah, yes, the old "Hollywood is bankrupt of ideas" canard. This could probably warrant an entire post of its own, suffice to say for now that people have been complaining about the lack of ideas from Hollywood since about, oh, the day after movies started getting made. Yes, a lot of dreck is made. That's no different from any other point in time and includes any art form - movies, music, literature, painting, etc. Many excellent films have come out in the past few years - Wall-E, The Dark Knight, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, Children of Men - off the top of my head.

And if Hanson is looking for recent great westerns, I would point him to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and 3:10 to Yuma. The second may be a remake, but it did just what a good remake should do - improve up on the original.
6. Something has happened to the generic American male accent. Maybe it is urbanization; perhaps it is now an affectation to sound precise and caring with a patina of intellectual authority; perhaps it is the fashion culture of the metrosexual; maybe it is the influence of the gay community in arts and popular culture. Maybe the ubiquitous new intonation comes from the scarcity of salty old jobs in construction, farming, or fishing. But increasingly to meet a young American male about 25 is to hear a particular nasal stress, a much higher tone than one heard 40 years ago, and, to be frank, to listen to a precious voice often nearly indistinguishable from the female. How indeed could one make Westerns these days, when there simply is not anyone left who sounds like John Wayne, Richard Boone, Robert Duvall, or Gary Cooper much less a Struther Martin, Jack Palance, L.Q. Jones, or Ben Johnson? I watched the movie Twelve O'clock High the other day, and Gregory Peck and Dean Jagger sounded liked they were from another planet. I confess over the last year, I have been interviewed a half-dozen times on the phone, and had no idea at first whether a male or female was asking the questions. All this sounds absurd, but I think upon reflection readers my age (55) will attest they have had the same experience. In the old days, I remember only that I first heard a variant of this accent with the old Paul Lynde character actor in one of the Flubber movies; now young men sound closer to his camp than to a Jack Palance or Alan Ladd.

"All of this sounds absurd." Yes, yes it does. I can't imagine why men don't sound like actors of years past, 'cause we all know that most successful actors back then just as they are now are successful because they are just like everyday people. They aren't pinnacles of beauty or anything.

Funny that he didn't mention Jimmy Stewart, though. I don't know anyone who does not like Jimmy Stewart, but I also don't know anyone who would accuse him of having a masculine voice.
9. As I wrote earlier, the shrill Left is increasingly far more vicious these days than the conservative fringe, and about like the crude Right of the 1950s. Why? I am not exactly sure, other than the generic notion that utopians often believe that their anointed ends justify brutal means. Maybe it is that the Right already had its Reformation when Buckley and others purged the extremists--the Birchers, the neo-Confederates, racialists, the fluoride-in-the-water conspiracists, anti-Semites, and assorted nuts.--from the conservative ranks in a way the Left has never done with the 1960s radicals that now reappear in the form of Michael Moore, Bill Ayers, Cindy Sheehan,, the Daily Kos, etc. Not many Democrats excommunicated for its General Betray-Us ad. Most lined up to see the premier of Moore's mythodrama. Barack Obama could subsidize a Rev. Wright or email a post-9/11 Bill Ayers in a way no conservative would even dare speak to a David Duke or Timothy McVeigh--and what Wright said was not all that different from what Duke spouts. What separated Ayers from McVeigh was chance; had the stars aligned, the Weathermen would have killed hundreds as they planned.

Yeah, because Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity are the pinnacles of conservative civility, right? Right?
10. The K-12 public education system is essentially wrecked. No longer can any professor expect an incoming college freshman to know what Okinawa, John Quincy Adams, Shiloh, the Parthenon, the Reformation, John Locke, the Second Amendment, or the Pythagorean Theorem is. An entire American culture, the West itself, its ideas and experiences, have simply vanished on the altar of therapy. This upcoming generation knows instead not to judge anyone by absolute standards (but not why so); to remember to say that its own Western culture is no different from, or indeed far worse than, the alternatives; that race, class, and gender are, well, important in some vague sense; that global warming is manmade and very soon will kill us all; that we must have hope and change of some undefined sort; that AIDs is no more a homosexual- than a heterosexual-prone disease; and that the following things and people for some reason must be bad, or at least must in public company be said to be bad (in no particular order): Wal-Mart, cowboys, the Vietnam War, oil companies, coal plants, nuclear power, George Bush, chemicals, leather, guns, states like Utah and Kansas, Sarah Palin, vans and SUVs.

Right. The only thing wrong with K-12 education is that kids these days are critical of the Vietnam War, believe that global warming has a man-made component, and think that George Bush really fucked up our country. If we fix that, we'll get our education system back on track.

I guess this type of thinking is what passes for critical thinking for much of the Right. Until those on the Right can come up with something a whole lot better than this ridiculous claptrap, they will remain out of power in America. Well, unless the Dems really screw things up which is certainly not beyond them, but I have a hard time seeing that happen on Obama's watch. Is he going to make mistakes and do things I disagree with? Yeah. Is he going to screw up badly that people go running back to the Republicans? Hmmmm...probably not. Just a hunch. Especially not if people on the Right are thinking like Victor David Hanson.

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