Monthly Archives: May 2009

Rattlesnakes Amid the Crabgrass

I’m a little worried about my neighbor. He recently mounted a large flag like this one (left) over his garage, and, just so his neighbors wouldn’t miss the message, put two more little ones in the tree in his front yard. Now, somehow, I don’t think he’s telling us to stay off his lawn, or that there might be rattlesnakes amid the crabgrass.

Students of American history will recognize the “Gadsden” flag as a banner of Revolutionary War-era rebellion and solidarity. Still, the sudden reemergence of this flag in recent months is about more than being a history buff or a garden-variety patriot. It’s about anti-Obama paranoia, plain and simple. Continue reading


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Filed under 2008 Election, Barack Obama, Music

Film Criticism Is Torture

Twenty years ago, conservative scholars like Allan Bloom and E.D. Hirsch were complaining about the decline of cultural literacy; today, conservatives are on the other side, egging on anti-intellectualism. Witness the twin posts this week from John Podhoretz and Rod Dreher, who, noting the death of film criticism (a topic I’ve been writing about for the last couple of years as virtually every major newspaper and magazine critic not named Ebert has lost his or her job), gleefully stomp on criticism’s grave. After all, both seem to argue, film criticism is just snooty liberal elitists who care more about “the condition of Finnish cinema” than reaffirming populist taste by championing market-tested big-studio blockbusters. It’s a pretty strange take on the trade, especially since both Podhoretz and Dreher have worked as film critics themselves.

Podhoretz argues that all it takes to review movies is an “interesting sensibility,” not specialized knowledge. This very low standard, of course, opens up the field to anyone who wants to post an opinion at IMDB, but as anyone who’s read the reviews there knows, having an opinion is no guarantee of literacy, well-reasoned argument, expertise, persuasiveness, or even taste. (Then again, getting paid to write criticism is no guarantee of those qualities either, as Podhoretz and Dreher’s own reviews prove.) Podhoretz insists that amateur reviewers, writing out of pure love for film, are more reliable barometers than professional critics writing for a paycheck. If that’s true, I hope he’s writing his reviews for The Weekly Standard for free. At least then, Rupert Murdoch would get what he’s paying for. Continue reading


Filed under Arts, Media, Movies

The Supreme Court is F—ing Brilliant

Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling (link opens a .pdf document) against even fleeting profanities on broadcast TV is being hailed by right-wing TV watchdogs as a victory for family values, but it’s clear that the decision does not really put to rest the issues at hand. As Variety reports, the ruling essentially tosses the ball back to the appeals courts, leaving undecided the larger First Amendment questions (should the FCC really have the authority to regulate content on broadcast TV?) and any recognition of how much the TV landscape has changed since the FCC started punishing networks for airing (even in passing, on awards shows and such) words from George Carlin’s notorious list.

The old standards used to apply because broadcast TV was a “uniquely pervasive” medium that made use of the public airwaves. Now, the broadcast channels are just a handful of options in the 500-channel universe, and they have to compete (unfairly, network execs will say) against cable channels that, because they don’t use public airwaves, are free to air unregulated and uncensored content. But the court also didn’t address whether the FCC should be regulating content in the first place. Networks complain that FCC sanctions often seem arbitrary, while the FCC commissioners argue that to issue an explicit set of don’ts would amount to prior restraint, which clearly would violate the First Amendment. That leaves only the Potter Stewart standard (named for the former Supreme Court Justice who defined pornography by saying only, “I know it when I see it”), which seems no fairer, and which may also violate the Constitution. Continue reading

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Filed under Censorship, Golden Globes, Media, TV