Tuesday, October 20

There's Never Anything On Teevee

Victor Davis Hanson, "Confessions of a Cultural Drop-out". October 17

ROY points us at Hanson; wise commenters nail down what little he doesn't; commenter Riley, still battling respiratory crap and attendant five-thousand things left undone just as the leaves start to fall, decides mid-novella to just hijack the thing. Y'all can have your money back if not satisfied.

Now the first problem we ran into, about six paragraphs into our rough draft, was that there was no seamless way to work in the ad hominem attack on Hanson we'd been harboring since we saw him on the Military History channel a week ago, commenting on Cannae. You may recall (hope so; I'm too lazy to look it up) that one insomniac night a couple months back we innocently let run the final fifteen minutes of a replay of some History Channel Thermopylae thing which had been designed for a homoerotic piggyback ride on the PR campaign for 300, because we were interested in what came on next. It didn't occur to us, in the cognitive twilight, that 1) Victor Davis Hanson would turn up as a commenter, or 2) that, having done so, he'd blather something about urination and defecation, which, while perhaps the legitimate focus of the odd academic thought or two, yet required some measure of self-control to avoid guffawing loudly enough to wake my Poor Wife, especially when set against the Tom of Finland animation.

That one was my own fault. But the other day I clicked on the Cannae story and ran headlong into him. Which was objectionable on the grounds that 1) I can't believe my karma is that bad; and 2) Hanson's Great Battles Retold As Simple Moral Lessons For Kids From Eight to Ninety-Eight is particularly exposed by Hannibal's textbook double envelopment (see Robert Bateman). The only thing I had to add was this: Thank you, Professor Fucking Sominex. I'm guessing that either the tables at the War College are padded, or they recommended everyone attending Hanson's lectures keep his helmet on.

There are two salient beauties to this approach: one really needn't worry all that much about substantive criticism of an approach to historical scholarship that was outmoded before one's birth when potential critics have to decide, early on, whether to continue reading/listening to you or whether to continue breathing; and it's almost perfectly transferable to any other endeavor where facts may be discounted or dismissed as irrelevant. For instance, right-wing political commentary.

Anyhooo, I've always been fascinated by how this Degenerate (now also Liberal Anti-Capitalist) Pop Culture routine has managed to surf along behind the crest of the zeitgeist all these years and still remain in one spot.
Why not DVDs?

If I watch DVDs, they surely are not of recent vintage. I couldn’t tell you a single release in the current most rented 100. I rewatch instead Westerns—Peckinpaugh, John Ford, the classics like Shane and High Noon, the greats like Henry Fonda, James Stewart, Lee Marvin, George C. Scott, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Paul Newman, John Wayne, etc., and, as I wrote a few months ago, almost anything with a brilliant, but now forgotten character actor such as a Jack Palance, Richard Boone (cf. Cicero Grimes in Hombre), Ben Johnson, or Warren Oates—if only for their accents, ad-libbed lines, and carriage. Only the greats like DeNiro or Pacino, or a Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, and a few others (a Hackman, Eastwood, or Hopkins) approximate the old breed. (A Mickey Rourke, Gary Oldman, or John Malkovich are at least originals and, like real people, look the worse for it). So I find myself replaying something like a Das Boot or Breaker Morant, or supposedly corny 1930s and 1940s classics like How Green Was My Valley or The Best Years of Our Lives. If I want to watch a film that failed at the box-office, I’ll take One-Eyed Jacks or Major Dundee or Pat Garret and Billy the Kid; their failures are better than today’s “successes”.

Now, as several of Roy's commenters pointed out, this condition, in the less inclined to attribute every minor irritation in life to the cryptic machinations of Big Liberal, is known as "getting old." But as Hanson and I are the same age, I note it's also something more: it's fake. Not that one can't adopt a nostalgia for an era one never knew, although this has it in spades, but for the sense that today's Hollywood has suddenly departed from a norm when in fact Hanson and I have grown up and grown old with his very complaints in our ears.

Not that the Right hasn't been chomping on roast leg of Hollywood since the Silents, but, y'know, how does a 55-year-old limn Peckinpah without recalling the uproar his work created at the time? Movies were too sexy, too violent, anti-American, morally relativist, and insufficiently uplifting forty fucking years ago. If you don't care to watch anything made after Todd-AO, fine by me. Just quit trying to pretend it's a recent development. Movies started blowin' shit up--I mean, started being about shit blowing up--with Jaws and Star Wars, not Transformers. You're sure going to miss 85% of what's worthwhile in the 30s if "anti-corporate" pushes your gorge to your throat. How can you watch even a standard Sheepherders vs. Cattlemen oater without flying off the handle? If "some gay or feminist heroes fending off club-bearing white homophobic Mississippians in pick-ups" ruin the cinematic experience for you, what of a few thousand hours of crock o'shit representations of The American Indian? If moral relativism gives you the fantods, skip noir, dude. For that matter you might want to concentrate on Grace Kelly's corset, and not the story line, in future screenings of High Noon.

In fact, let's just make this a general maxim: If you want to walk through Life guided by the idea that the American Railroad Baron is the victim of calumniously bad PR, finding suitable entertainment is not your biggest problem.


Uncle Omar said...

Has it ever been determined exactly which matchbook cover granted a Ph.D. to Hanson? I know that the Lafayette Correspondence School was big in his youth, but I didn't know that it granted Ph.D.'s in Classical Studies or Ancient Military History.

heydave said...

And stay the FUCK off of his lawn!

Grace Nearing said...

How the frick did Hanson forget about Audie Murphy?! That guy not only did it in the movies, he did it for real.

Douglas Watts said...

I await VDH's pining for the revolutionary musical breakthroughs of Johnny Rivers.

map106 said...

Well, I remember the urination and defecation rant, the Tom of Finland reference was priceless, and I got the Todd-AO allusion to one of Liz Taylor's one thousand husbands. By that time, I was sweating. Your writing is my weekly intellectual exercise.

Could you just do me a favor and write the semi-autobiographical novel (optioned for an Academy Award-winning movie) that will make me a rich man for me?

Not much to ask, do you think?

map106 said...


...write for me the semi-autobiographical novel...

I need your help.

Anonymous said...

It isn't exactly fake; it's worse. It's the most arrant case of genre prejudice I've ever seen, and I've seen a few. As I pointed out over at Roy's place, VDH will not regard any movie as valid that isn't in a Guaranteed Macho Genre like Westerns and war movies. Ideally, such a case of genre prejudice would disqualify a man from commenting on movies in public; but we live in VDH's world, and we must put up with it.

Anonymous said...

Johnny Guitar, what about Johnny Guitar.