There'sa depressing, not to mention inadvertently funny, article in the July 19 Nationthat's worth examining for anyone who's fascinated, as I am, by the left's effetenessand milksop inefficacy. How do these people presume to accomplish anything ofworth if their magazines keep defining themselves with articles like this one?Entitled "Did Buffy Do It?" the article, by Tara Zahra, is anotherin the genre of ruminations on the violence that characterizes youth entertainment. "Ateenager 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 thenbears twins without waking up," and so on. Then, irrelevantly and predictably,Zahra tries to pull the rug out from under her readers, informing them thatthese 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'salways been thus, and always will be. How crypto-conservative. So just becauseold fairytales were morbid and violent, too, we shouldn't question what theculture industry's always pumping out into the world today? It's so crucialfor Zahra to maintain a pose of knowing sophistication in her cultural politics-noprovincial she-that she'll go to any lengths to do so, even to the point ofimplicitly apologizing for the corporations. If moralists are against capitalism,after all, then capitalism's got to be good. Nice "left" we'vegot here.
But it'stoward the end of the article that it becomes dismally amusing. "Yet themedia," Zahra writes, "may indeed be useful in helping children todeal with the complicated social causes of violent behavior. There are creativeprograms that teach skills and values like tolerance and conflict resolution."
Wait. It's1978 again. You're maybe six years old. You're consuming Sesame Streetor some other propagandistic American tripe in the rec room. Your old man'soff rebirthing. Gods'-eyes dangle in the solarium. Your mother's possibly, she'sstarting to suspect, a lesbian. Andean flute music over the hi-fi; consciousness-raisingin the hot tub; Jules Feiffer on the fridge.
The nextsentence, though, is the kicker:
"Oneexample is Willoughby's Wonders, a live-action comedy about an urbancoed soccer team designed to help kids acquire coping abilities, created bySusan Lin with Alvin Poussaint, both of Harvard Medical School. The pilot airedon Boston public television in 1996, was awarded two regional Emmys and hasattracted funding from the Ford Foundation."
I've neverheard of Willoughby's Wonders, but it's hard to imagine from the abovethat more objectionable programming exists: a socializing primer in acceptancesponsored by Harvard University, the government and the Ford Foundation. It'sa shame the CIA couldn't get involved, too.
But Zahra'snot done. "Teaching kids media literacy is another useful tactic,"she writes. "What do they like about the much maligned Quake orDoom? Why does the local news lead with the latest murder? In Maryland,media literacy sessions co-sponsored by the Maryland Education Department andDiscovery Communications (owner of the Discovery Channel) will be presentedin public schools next year."
Stunning.So now kids should have to explain to the Ford Foundation, or to whomever, whythey 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 thetrain to the correct neighborhoods and be more so. IRT to 72nd St., my youngfriends. Bring spraypaint.
Plus, kidsare already media literate. That's the thing about kids in 1999. That's whythey always disdainfully reject the sort of trash that people like Zahra wouldfoist upon them, and go back to listening to Korn and blowing each other's headsoff in video games. (And by the way, neither of those activities, unlike watchingpious suburban-liberal programming, is incompatible with being intellectuallycurious.) Sometimes, when kids reject effete PBS-style programming-and theyalways do-they don't only go listen to Korn or only play video games. Sometimesthey, like, read books and stuff, and engage other activities that willallow them to acquire the freedom of mind to ignore the Zahras of the world.Zahra's condescension toward young people is mind-boggling.
"Themedia 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'stv might begin to turn things around."
How effete,harmless, conventional, boneless, weak, equivocating and-finally, if you'restupid enough to keep looking to traditional liberals for a viable alternativeto wearying, dangerous Bush/Gore centrism-thoroughly depressing.
A poignantscrap of information about President Clinton was reported last week in the LondonIndependent, the Louisville, KY, Courier-Journal and on the AP wire, but itappeared in none of the local New York papers. It's this: Apparently the Presidenthas, since 1996, been maintaining a charming little mail correspondence with14-year-old Meghan Johnson, a Kentucky resident.
Accordingto the July 6 Courier-Journal, Johnson "stood in the bright sunat Blue Grass Airport yesterday morning next to local politicians and businessleaders waiting to greet President Clinton, who was making a stop on his wayto Eastern Kentucky.
"Meghan,a soon-to-be-freshman at Madison Central High School, was wearing a T-shirtthat said, 'First Pen Pal,' and she held another T-shirt for Clinton. Printedon the back were the words: 'Meghan's Pen Pal.'"
Clintonmust have been just exhilarated to see young Johnson going public. Andshe's 14, no less. Well. A lass in the bloom of her pubescence.
The reportincludes this sad bit: "The blossoming of this unlikely friendship hasmeant a trip to the Oval Office for Meghan and her family, and for a boy sheknew 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 daysbefore the House voted to impeach him, when he thanked her for being a loyalfriend."
And thisone: "They kept up the letter- writing. Meghan would write Clinton abouther family and friends and her interest in playing the flute. She said thatClinton would sometimes write about current events, but mainly it was abouthis interest in playing the saxophone and other personal things that Meghanrefuses to discuss."
Thus themelancholy Bill Clinton: the country's loneliest, most miserable middle-agedwretch; a meatball sprawled over a barstool at some strip-mall happy hour, fantasizingabout his daughter's soccer team.
The spring/summeredition of CovertAction Quarterly is available now and it contains itspredictable proportion of dorm-style Third World-romanticist claptrap. Fully19 pages out of 75, for example, are devoted to articles detailing the injusticesdone by various law enforcement and governmental agencies to MOVE, Tupac Shakurand Mumia Abu-Jamal-who happens to be the only human being on the planet capableof making me accept the justice of the death penalty.
But, justas predictably, there's some good sense in the magazine as well. Diana Johnstone,in an article called "NATO's Parallel Wars," provides a concise alternativehistory 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 asattacks on the Albanian population. The casualties on all sides were in thehundreds (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 weredestroyed, because rural Albanian houses are built for a double function: dwellingand defense. This stems from the blood feud tradition. It is visible. Albanianhouses are often walled compounds, with small windows on upper floors."
And MarkCook 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 theCaspian Sea. Steven Lee Myers reported in the New York Times March 15that the U.S. Army is training for a new post-Cold War role: 'protecting' CaspianSea oil."
Cook goeson: "The fact that NATO, instead of disappearing after the Cold War, isactually growing in global reach, scope and aggressiveness, has revealed whatmany long suspected: that NATO, falsely labeled a defensive alliance, is andalways was a military organization aimed at seizing control of markets, naturalresources, and cheap labor markets on behalf of capitalist transnational corporations.That, in essence, has been its only business since 1989."
There'snothing new there, except perhaps for the tantalizing bit about the potentialfor U.S. mischief in the oil-bonanza Caspian Sea region. But it's preciselystated.
But oh boy,is Abu-Jamal a dumbbell or what? CovertAction Quarterly proudly includesan anti-NATO screed by the celebrated convict, and it comes as a rather dispiritingaffirmation of your worst cynical impulses. In other words, you're remindedthat 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-Mumiasignatures on the F train: He's dumb. Or to put it even less charitably: He'sblack and "leftist" (which is to say that he murders members of theworking class). Mumia writes things like this: "[The Kosovo action is]about establishing who's 'boss' in the next century. It's about keeping Russiain its place. It's about keeping the European Union under the thumb of WallStreet."
Comeon, Mumia. God forbid that someone would want to maintain a profitable balanceof power toward Russia, which hasn't exactly acquitted itself like a gentlemanthese last thousand years or so. Does Mumia know anything about Russia?
Second ofall, you wonder how childish a grasp of history and culture you've got to possessin order to conceive of the technocrats who preside over the European Unionas downtrodden peasants squirming under Wall Street's plutocratic heel. Perhapshe thinks all Europeans wear wooden shoes and churn butter. Dude, they'repreindustrial. Norman Mailer should buy Mumia a jailhouse subscription toNational Geographic. This is the great literary mind of the politicalprisoner we keep hearing so much about?
This Saturdaywitnessed another Olympian New York Times exercise in confronting the marginsof the city it calls home. Or not even the margins, actually, but just homeyold Tompkins Square Park-which, for at least the last seven years, has existedwell within the warmth spread by affluent young white New York's campfire.
But theTimes obviously considers the park marginal, so let's cede them the point.The article, by Douglas Martin and entitled "Disparate Crowds Find a ParkThey Call Home," amounted to a good thumbnail guide of Times attitudeswhen it ventures out to cover the demos.
First, therewas the Times' tendency to take excruciatingly seriously people whomwould better be approached with skepticism. It's hard to tell if this tendencyis 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 mandatorylecture by some guy from a black nationalist cult to tell you what a racistlittle devil you were, and what he said was really incogent and stupid, butyou couldn't laugh even when he started ranting about your "jewniversity"because he was, after all, a black nationalist?) or of a combination of allthree. Second, there's the reassuring paper-of-record desire to strain to makesense of-to domesticate, to cozily narrativize-human violence, perversity, randomnessand sheer stupidity. Both of these elements are present in the following passage,in which the Times makes a contretemps amongst drug-fazed maniacs soundlike a point-of-order dispute at the annual plenary session of the AmericanPhilological Society.
"Othersdefended the dead man, Joseph Radu, Jr., 44, saying he was decent," writesMartin, 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 isthe 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 whenit 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 toNEA funding. Monsieur Stix! The article continues:
"Theprincipal discussion was whom to blame for the killing. The men and one leather-cladprostitute who joined the conversation for a few minutes said the two men chargedwith beating Mr. Radu to death had been shooting spitballs at people for months.
"LastTuesday, according to the park bench denizens, the two men hit Mr. Radu witha 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. Othersheld that the racial epithet justified a violent response, with one suggestingthat 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 orleft alone. But the Times tries to normalize the madness. Which is itsOlympian mandate of course, but still, it's kind of funny sometimes. "TompkinsSquare Park," Martin later intones, "in an odd way demonstrates thetolerance-and the strains on tolerance-of a polyglot city."
And youthought it was just a good place to shoot hoops and score weed.