Magill, R. Jay Jr. Sincerity: How a moral ideal born five hundred years ago inspired religious wars, modern art, hipster chic, and the curious notion that we all have something to say (no matter how dull). W. W. Norton & Co., 2013. 272 pp. $25.95
The word “sincere” first showed up in written English in 1533, the author of this useful book tells us. It came with, or soon acquired, a very pretty etymology, from the Latin sine cera, “without wax“”the wax that dishonest masons and sculptors used to disguise defects in their products.
Alas, the etymology is false: “Sincere” is from Latin sincerus, which means clean, pure, or sound”the real thing. Thence the word wandered into medieval Romance languages: Middle French sincÃ©ritÃ©, recorded in 1237. The ancient and medieval senses, however, applied to inanimate things: gems, wine, doctrine. It was the Reformation that decisively coupled outward show to private conscience to give us the modern notion of sincerity.
Nothing is more private than our own mental states, and this subjective quality puts sincerity under a shadow of ambiguity. A Hindu, a Christian, and an atheist all believe radically different things. They can”t all be right, but they may all be sincere. By the same token, sincerity is disqualified as a virtue, or even as an unqualified good. A mass-murdering despot may be perfectly sincere in his wish to exterminate heretics, class enemies, or Untermenschen; his victims can be forgiven for failing to appreciate his sincerity.
Regard for sincerity in Western civilization has ebbed and flowed since those 16th-century Protestants began plumbing their inner selves. (“I have within me the great pope, Self.” “Luther) Magill charts these cycles of action and reaction.
The problem with a community dedicated to sincerity is that impostors will quickly learn the appropriate outward show. As the old showbiz adage has it: “Sincerity”if you can fake that, you”ve got it made.” (I have a feeling that one’s a favorite with political consultants, too.) La Rochefoucauld noted in 1665 that: “What usually passes for sincerity is only an artful pretense designed to win the confidence of others.”
So the tide ebbed, and a mannered society, elevating the courtly arts of wit, style, flattery, and guile made a comeback, the restoration of the English monarchy in 1660 standing as a convenient milestone.
In due course Jean-Jacques Rousseau came along to serve as the Luther for a less religious age. It is an odd thing indeed, as Magill notes, that the champion of this new sincerity should have been a man who wrote a manual on child-raising while depositing his own five children in orphanages because they were too bothersome to him.
So it was, though; and the Romantic movement was well and truly launched, soon followed by its bastard American child, transcendentalism. Its further descendants, the cults of “authenticity” and “self-expression,” still plague us today.
Magill’s longest and (to my taste) richest chapter concerns sincerity in the arts from the mid-19th century on. The creative arts are of course shot through with pretense: Classical painting pretends that a two-dimensional canvas is a three-dimensional scene, the novel tells us of things that never happened as if they did, music aims to stir emotions that, in their primal form, never had anything to do with plucked strings or struck membranes.
The natural tendency of creative spirits therefore favors pretense and deceit. Whether this is the same as insincerity is a tricky thing to argue”trickier, I think, than Magill makes it seem.
Is Salon.com the worst political commentary website on the Internet?
I ask not as a snarky observer, but a genuine inquisitor.
The webzine brands itself as a news outlet chock-full of hard-hitting analysis and investigation. It has also mastered the art of shock-and-awe headlines meant to gin up excitable liberals and enrage conservatives. As far as I can tell, this is a conscious effort on behalf of the writers. In the era of attention-deficit media, it makes sense to target explosive topics that force the other side to quickly respond. Former editor-in-chief David Talbot once commented:
Yeah, we’ve made no secret of that. I’ve said all along that our formula here is that we’re a smart tabloid. If by tabloid what you mean is you’re trying to reach a popular audience, trying to write topics that are viscerally important to a readership….
With attention-grabbing headlines such as “GOP’s economic war on women about to explode” and ““The Legend of Zelda” is classist, sexist and racist,” you can almost imagine the author typing furiously behind a desk, anxious to expose how terribly cruel the world really is. Because progressives are disgusted by the very nature of greed, it makes no sense to suspect a profit motive behind these outrageous polemics on victimhood.
That leaves one option: The writers at Salon truly do believe in the egalitarian bile they see fit to publish. If this is the case, the logical conclusion is the site’s readership is full of misfits who couldn’t make the basketball junior-varsity team in high school. That still does not explain why Salon is one of the most read political websites in the United States.
The worst offender of both objective criticism and good sense at Salon is Editor at Large Joan Walsh, who is gifted with the uncanny ability to spot racism in the most harmless of circumstances. She recently declared the government shutdown was really a racist ploy by Republicans in the House of Representatives. Her reasoning boiled down to: If you oppose the debilitating welfare state, you have it out for blacks. Tracing the gene of subtle racism back to the Gipper, Walsh, in all seriousness, writes:
You didn’t have to be racist to thrill to Reagan’s declaration that “government is not the solution; government is the problem,” though it didn’t hurt.
Basically, if you don’t bathe in obsequious acclaim for the first black president, you want deportation of all blacks just like Abe Lincoln did. The quasi-closing of Washington was just another attempt to cement the white man’s stranglehold over minorities. It all sounds plausible if you forget the government shuttered its windows (but not its thievery) under Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. The majority of these shutdowns occurred as Democrats held the House, and namely while Tip O’Neill was Speaker. Walsh”and even more so her bloviating MSNBC colleague Chris Matthews”pays this historic record no mind. Cudgeling Republicans is far too important to allow facts to sneak in the way.
After some critics pointed out the absurdity of Walsh’s argument, the Salon Empress doubled down on her claim that all opposition to the president is driven by off-kilter hatred of the black man. ‘Tis another case of the tolerant, cosmopolitan liberal who is obstinate in her own beliefs and accepts no dissent.
Walsh’s cronies fare no better. Writer Michael Lind has lately taken to bashing libertarianism. He seems to enjoy calling the philosophy “juvenile” and “superficial” without having a clue as to what liberty actually entails. In trying to square the concept of Lockean natural rights into his circle of the nanny state, Lind once accepted Franklin Roosevelt’s vacuous and clichÃ©d Second Bill of Rights as a legitimate extension of the natural law understood by America’s Founding Fathers. To the progressive with a government-centric worldview, freedom really means the ability to shake down your neighbors so you can buy birth control and jerry-rigged public housing.
As a Southern Californian, my attention span for auto racing has shrunk to the four seconds it takes a top fuel dragster at the Pomona Winternationals to roar 1,000 feet in a straight line. So I haven’t really been following as closely as I should all the drivers down in Dixie going around and around. And around. (And, I suspect, around some more.)
I’ve been especially lax about keeping up with NASCAR’s minor-league truck-racing circuit on which the 20-year-old Wallace triumphed Saturday. Nevertheless, his victory in Martinsville, Virginia was deemed major-league news because, you see, Wallace is a product of NASCAR’s nine-year-old Drive for Diversity program. He’s the first African American to win even this kind of third-tier NASCAR event since 1963.
Presumably, after this shattering of barriers and furnishing of a suitable role model, black drivers will flood NASCAR, just as Tiger Woods’s 1997 Masters victory led to all the black golf champions we see today.
(Oh, sorry, that didn’t happen as forecast.)
The news should raise the question: If it takes so much organized effort in the 21st century for a black to win a small-time NASCAR contest, how in the world did Wendell Scott triumph in a Grand National race a half-century ago, back before diversity awareness?
Like Junior Johnson (whom a young Jeff Bridges portrayed in The Last American Hero, a 1973 adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s famous 1965 Esquire article), Scott got his start bootlegging moonshine and trying to outrace the revenuers.
In 1952, a struggling racetrack in Danville, Virginia was looking for a gimmick to excite public interest. So the managers “asked the Danville police who the best Negro driver in town was. The police recommended the moonshine runner whom they had chased many times and caught only once.” The news brought a big crowd, including new black fans, to the racetrack. Scott contended for the lead, but over several laps his 1935 Ford comically disintegrated.
The 30-year-old novice then struggled for years to make it in a sport that functions as a sort of implicit ethnic-pride festival for Americans not allowed to hold ethnic-pride festivals, finally achieving sustained success in the 1960s.
I was too young to hear about Scott’s 1963 Jacksonville win, but I recall his name during my years as a car guy from 1967-1969. I was more into dragsters, such as the science-fiction-style top fuel and cartoon-like funny cars, than the more mundane-looking stock cars. But I was less ADD when I was an eight-year-old, so I followed all the circuits and can recall Wendell Scott’s name coming up near the top of the agate type columns of race results. He never won again after 1963, but impressively, Scott finished in the top ten overall for each year from 1966 through 1969.
As a boy, I tended to get Scott confused with Charley Pride, a black country and western singer who broke through in Nashville in 1967 and had six straight number-one country chart toppers in 1969-71. They were both Southern blacks making it in white Southern businesses.
That seemed to be the general pattern back then: the lifting of hard-and-fast racial lines meant that talent flowed into unexpected fields.
Board up the TV screen and plug your ears with seaweed, boys!
Hurricane Gore is about to come ashore with another gale-force climate sermon. Interviews that the former next president has been giving suggest 24 Hours of Reality is calculated to make markets crash. The question is: Which ones?
Al Gore has already told fellow communitarian climate maven Joe Romm that public and private investment must be bent to the view that fossil fuels are best left in the ground:
There are $7 trillion worth carbon assets on the books of multinational energy companies….The valuation of those companies and their assets is now based on the assumption that all of those carbon assets are going to be sold and burned. And they are not. The global scientific community has just reaffirmed that No [sic] more than one-third can ever possibly be burned without destroying the future.
Invoking the subprime mortgage crisis, he added:
This carbon bubble is going to burst….People can make short-term profits by playing the psychology of the markets. But if you’re a long-term investor and you do not take into account the stranded-assets potential for carbon-based equities and debt instruments, in my view you’re making a mistake.
Romm concludes that divesting endowments from fossil-fuel companies is “not just the morally right thing to do for a university, foundation, or pension fund”it was a financially smart move for any such long-term investor.” The markets appear to differ, perhaps because analysts have run some inconvenient numbers.
Legitimate as concern over oil imports and climate change may be, domestic fossil-fuel production has been ramping up, and America has, wonder of wonders, become the world’s largest energy producer.
This may be bad news for posterity, for however slow, manmade climate forcing remains as pernicious as inflation; but in terms of letting the present generation live long lives, there is a case for civilization continuing to indulge in the use of fire. Americans generate over 20 tons of carbon dioxide annually, Kazakhstanis over 13, Israelis over 10. Even though sorely handicapped by their nuclear electric system, the French manage a respectable six tons per capita.
Still, there are laggards, nations so backward that they are not pulling their weight in the race to outdo nature as a source of climate change. Despite India’s burgeoning economy, its billion citizens added a feeble two parts per million of CO2 to their share of the world’s air each year, while Pakistanis barely manage one.
Burning under three pounds of fuel a day for all purposes from cooking and heating to transport may seem austere to some, but Deep Greens deem even the carbon footprint of a Cuban campesino shockingly profligate. Seeking to reverse increases in gases that warm the planet, they applaud Al Gore’s demand for a 90% cut in US CO2 emissions by 2050. This means America must undercut the fuel economy of sunny Iraq at ~3 tons per capita of CO2, or Cuba at 2, and emulate the few, the proud nations that have become avatars of Earth Day by emitting less than a ton of CO2 per capita annually.
Which one to aim for is for democracy to determine, so before you vote Green or emigrate this Election Day consider this list of ten low-cal nations whose cool energy example America can follow into a central-heating-free future:
The winners are:
|CO2 per capita
So has everyone finally recovered from United Nations Day?
October 24th seems to roll around faster every year. I almost forgot to order the “blue helmet”-shaped cake with cholera-shaped sprinkles and was late mailing out the novelty parking tickets with the comically huge fines you don’t really have to pay.
Costco started selling chocolate landmines right after Labor Day. The whole thing’s become way too commercial.
Since 1971, the General Assembly has been nudging member states to declare United Nations Day a public holiday, just like all those stupid, old-fashioned religious and patriotic ones. In a rare display of the kind of international solidarity the UN was supposedly founded to foster, every country in the world has responded, “Yeah, no.”
This is where I’m supposed to insert the boilerplate about the UN being a “well-intentioned project” that “once served a purpose,” etc. This idea is a cornerstone of received liberal wisdom. That means it can’t be true.
To avoid sounding like one of those anti-Bilderberger bores who sees contrails in the shape of George Soros, I’ll limit my “proof” to two words: Alger Hiss.
American conservatives have denounced the UN as a cesspool of corruption and stupidity almost since the day it was founded. That’s the trouble.
These days, we carefully chronicle tales of rampant sexual exploitation by the UN’s vaunted “Peacekeepers,” who should really consider changing their name to “Piece-getters.”
UN Watch dutifully reports on Muslim member states’ ongoing campaign to criminalize words and images critical of Islam and its bloodthirsty pedophile prophet, who was basically Charles Manson without the songwriting talent.
We roll our eyes when a “country” such as Mauritania gets elected to the UN Human Rights Council despite its population of 800,000 slaves.
And about those land mines: UN defenders point to its “successful” campaign to dig them all up. But if the organization had effectively carried out its alleged mission to bring peace on Earth once and for all, surely there’d be no land mines to dig up in the first place.
Up here, we grumble when”at the behest of one of our mouthiest Official Jews“the UN threatens to declare Canada’s treatment of aboriginals “genocide.” So what if there are more Indians now than there were when the French and English landed? (Also, I missed the part in Schindler’s List when everybody in the ghetto got a big-screen TV.)
Then another year goes by and”yeah, we’re still members of this thing.
To call us masochistic is an insult to groveling gimp-masked subs everywhere. At least a dominatrix’s clients experience a thrill for their money. America’s (and Canada’s) extremely expensive “relationship” with the UN doesn’t even rise to that dubious level of mutually satisfying transaction.
“Twas ever thus.
Open George H. Nash’s The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America“every home should have one”to page 247. Meet “conservative sociologist” Ernest van den Haag, whose travels to the Congo in 1961 convinced him that the UN’s “work” had set back the region twenty years. He called upon the United States to let the world organization “vegetate” and “atrophy.”
The UN was right up there with water fluoridation, the Department of Education, and the Red Menace on the right wing’s list of villains throughout the second half of the 20th century.
The first reports in early May of 1960 were that a U.S. weather plane, flying out of Turkey, had gone missing.
A silent Moscow knew better. After letting the Americans crawl out on a limb, expatiating on their cover story, Russia sawed it off.
Actually, said Nikita Khrushchev, we shot down a U.S. spy plane 1000 miles inside our country flying over a restricted zone.
We have the pilot, we have the camera, we have the pictures. We have the hollow silver dollar containing the poisoned-tipped needle CIA pilot Francis Gary Powers declined to use.
Two weeks later, Khrushchev used the U-2 incident and Ike’s refusal to apologize to dynamite the Paris summit and the gauzy Spirit of Camp David that had come out of his ten-day visit to the USA.
Eisenhower’s reciprocal trip to Russia was now dead.
A year later, President Kennedy would be berated by Khrushchev in Vienna. The Berlin Wall would go up. And Khrushchev would begin secretly to install nuclear missiles in Cuba, 90 miles from Key West.
Had there been no U-2 incident, would the history of the Cold War have been different? Perhaps.
Yet, while there were critics of launching Power’s U-2 flight so close to the summit, Americans understood the need for espionage. Like us, the Soviets were installing ballistic missiles, every single one of which could incinerate an American city.
Post 9/11, too, Americans accepted the necessity for the National Security Agency to retrieve and sift through phone calls and emails to keep us secure from terror attacks. Many have come to accept today’s risks of an invasion of their privacy—for greater security for their family.
And there remains a deposit of trust among Americans that the NSA, the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency are not only working for us, they are defending us.
How long Americans will continue to repose this trust, however, is starting to come into question.
Last week, we learned that a high official of the U.S. government turned 200 private phone numbers of 35 friendly foreign leaders, basically the Rolodex of the president, over to the NSA for tapping and taping.
Allied leaders, with whom America works toward common goals, have for years apparently had their private conversations listened to, transcribed and passed around by their supposed U.S. friends.
Angela Merkel has apparently been the subject of phone taps since before she rose to the leadership of Germany and Europe. A victim of the East German Stasi, Ms. Merkel is not amused.
We are told not to be na”¹ve; everyone does it. Spying, not only between enemies but among allies, is commonplace.
This is how the world works. Deal with it.
For years now the world has been trying to tell The Netherlands that one of its favorite holiday traditions is an unacceptably racist vestige of colonial bloodletting, but the stubborn Dutch bastards just won”t listen. So now the United Nations has decided to get involved.
Since the mid-1800s, Zwarte Piet (“Black Pete”) has assisted Sinterklaas (a white-bearded white gent transitioning somewhere between St. Nicholas and Santa Claus) in distributing candy and presents to towheaded, rosy-cheeked, and apparently racially impressionable Dutch children on December 5. (A similar ritual is enacted on December 6 in Belgium.) Although referred to in the singular as if it’s only one individual, there are actually countless Black Petes”it sort of works the same way with Bigfoot and “the white man.” Just as there are undoubtedly millions of Bigfeet and white men roaming the planet, the only thing preventing the country from suddenly erupting into a 17-million-strong flash mob of Black Petes would be a shortage of theatrical blackface, red lipstick, Afro wigs, and, if you can swing it, a right fancy Moorish laddie’s costume. Anyone can be Black Pete. You don”t even have to be black. You don”t even have to be named Pete. Dutch Santa usually arrives in public surrounded by a grinning entourage of Black Petes, hardly any of them actually black or named Pete.
Black Pete’s origins are disputed. It’s generally agreed that sometime in the 1500s or 1600s, Europe’s version of the St. Nicholas legend bequeathed a dark personal assistant upon St. Nick. In some cases it appeared to be a demon and in others a Moor, and in many cases no one bothered to ponder whether there’s really a difference. Holland’s Black Pete was first incarnated sometime after the 1845 publication of Sint Nicolaas en zijn Knecht (“Saint Nicholas and his Servant”), and it’s the “servant” part that has given the chronically inflamed Race Police at the United Nations a mean case of diaper rash.
In the annual Dutch tradition, Sinterklass and his merry crew of Zwarte Pieten arrive in November on a boat from Spain brimming with gifts to be gleefully flung at eager Dutch youngsters. Dutch children thus learn at a very young age and in a shamefully insidious manner that black people are prone to smiling and giving you candy.
Yes, sure, whatever, OK, fine, but everyone knows that beneath the seemingly harmless cheap veneer of generosity and kindness roars the ugly, foul-breathed, insatiably murderous head of European colonialism expressed through a shamelessly naked act of cultural appropriation.
As we all know, appropriation is inappropriate.
Even America, that stinking septic tank of ritual racist murder and general all-around mean-spiritedness, has banished blackface (but not whiteface) to beyond the Pale, pun intended. We even got rid of all our Coon Chicken Inns. England exterminated its Golliwoggs. So what the hell is wrong with the Dutch?
Who says there’s anything wrong with them?
The usual suspects, naturally. Sure, the Dutch may be full-throttle prog when it comes to welfare, cannabis, gay marriage, euthanasia, and the whoring industry, but until they assassinate Black Pete, they will remain at least partially unacceptable.
In 2003, the Global African Congress petitioned the Dutch Parliament to euthanize Black Pete. They were ignored. In 2011, a black man wearing a “Black Pete is Racism” shirt was roughed up by Dutch police on video, but just as with the edited version of the Rodney King beating, it starts in media res and so it’s hard to tell who started the altercation. It is said that “many of the country’s prominent thinkers and black celebrities” have called for Black Pete’s death, and a Dutch blogger usually known for irreverence says, “The sooner we get rid of Zwarte Piet, the sooner we won”t look like idiots to the rest of the world.”
Either that, or the sooner you”ll look like the rest of the world’s useful idiots.
Even “the Dutch actor who has been playing the head black Pete for the past 14 years on Dutch television” wrote a recent editorial entitled “Make me less black and less a servant.”
I understand the “servant” part, but isn”t it good to be black? This shit is always so confusing. And is there anything that Black Pete does or symbolizes that is more derogatory toward black people than the very existence of, say, Flavor Flav or Lil Wayne?
When Dutchmen and Dutchwomen say that outsiders shouldn”t meddle with their cultural traditions, they are sternly lectured that they don”t even understand the deeper global meaning of their own cultural traditions and if they make another peep, it will become quickly evident that they are in deep denial about the racism that throbs with reptilian malevolence inside them and that they”re guilty whether they confess or deny, so there’s really no point in denying it. It doesn”t even matter if the racism is invisible or imperceptible or fully subconscious”in fact, that’s the worst kind.
Clearly, The Netherlands” main problem is that it remains 80% Dutch. This needs to be not only addressed, it needs to be atoned for, and the only way to get back at the Dutch for colonizing Suriname and South Africa is to colonize their country with non-Dutch to the point where it isn”t so plainly and egregiously Dutch anymore. That’s how you atone for colonialism”through retributive colonialism in the service of our benevolent and well-intended neo-elites.
The Week’s Most Criminal, Subliminal, and Aboriginal Headlines
TRIUMPH OF THE LEECHES
According to recently released Census Bureau data, more Americans received means-tested government benefits in the final quarter of 2011 than were employed full-time throughout that year. Whereas fewer than 102 million Americans worked full-time in 2011, over 108 million lived in households receiving Medicaid, food stamps, SSI, WIC, TANF, and/or subsidized housing. The number balloons to over 150 million when one counts Social Security benefits, Medicare, veteran’s pensions, and unemployment compensation.
BILLIONAIRES PLAYING POLITICS
Currency-manipulating globalist culture destroyer George Soros is marshaling his formidable cadres of singing midgets and flying monkeys to support a super PAC called Ready for Hillary that will pave the yellow brick road for a possible 2016 presidential bid by the bloodless shrew and accused abuser of former President Bill Clinton.
Vegas-based casino magnate and neocon bankroller Sheldon Adelson, whose body is rumored to be composed entirely of chopped liver and $100 bills, recently suggested that the US should drop a nuclear bomb in the Iranian desert to forever terrify Tehran’s regime from ever thinking about acquiring the same sort of doomsday weaponry that Israel won’t admit to already having.
eBay founder Pierre Omidyar has pledged a quarter-billion dollars toward the development of a news site to be helmed by Glenn Greenwald, the American journalist most famous for breaking the NSA/Snowden story.
Chinese authorities arrested billionaire venture capitalist Wang Gongquan and held him on suspicion of disturbing the public order in what one Chinese blogger calls “a warning from the government that the wealthy merchant class should not use their money to support causes against the government.” Wang is a sympathizer of the New Citizens Movement, which agitates for such counterrevolutionary activities as free speech and government transparency.
WORLD TO NSA: QUIT SPYING ON US
After revelations that the US may have been eavesdropping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s telephone calls for over a decade, 21 countries led by Germany and Brazil are petitioning the United Nations to help them hobble the NSA’s global overreach. Reports suggest that the NSA may have been monitoring the calls of as many as three dozen world leaders, as well as millions of calls by continental European citizens. Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert spoke of “a grave breach of trust,” while a parliamentary overseer of German intelligence said that “the NSA’s monitoring activities have gotten completely out of hand, and take place beyond all democratic controls.”
CRIME: A BAD WEEK FOR TEACHERS
On Monday a Nevada seventh-grader allegedly shot and killed his math teacher with a 9mm Ruger before fatally shooting himself in the head. A fellow student said that the alleged shooter might have been inspired by an anti-bullying video that portrayed a “girl bringing a gun onto a school bus to frighten bullies.”
On Tuesday 14-year-old Philip D. Chism allegedly stabbed his teacher to death with a box cutter, dumped her body in the woods, and then went to see a Woody Allen movie.
There is one group of people whom it is morally permissible to hate, and of whom in these times of speech codes it is allowed or even obligatory to speak hatefully: namely, the rich. This is rather odd when one thinks of it, for economic resentment was ultimately responsible for more deaths in the last century than racial hatred. Yet to be a racist is to put yourself outside the pale of decent society; to be an economic egalitarian is to establish your generosity of spirit and profound sense of justice.
Perhaps this is because this world’s rewards are not distributed according to anyone’s idea of how they ought to be distributed; that is to say, in accordance with anyone’s individual scale of values. They seem rather to be bestowed capriciously and not in accordance with merit. Some, of course, have merely inherited their wealth; others have made it in ways of which we do not approve or even despise. Not all rich people are well-behaved; indeed, they can be tactless, offensive, vulgar, and tasteless. When Mr. Ambani built his domestic skyscraper in Bombay I was appalled not by the expenditure (though I had walked through the slums of that city) but by the complete aesthetic worthlessness of what he built. To spend a billion dollars on a house and to detract, slightly, from the beauty of the world is, in a way, an achievement; but one of the functions of the rich is to preserve and increase such beauty. These days they don”t make a very good job of it; the rich these days seem often to have no better taste than the poor. One has only to consider the relative prices on the art market to understand that of all personal qualities, good taste is the rarest.
Still, hatred of the rich, which people do not hesitate to express as if it were a virtue to do so, rests fundamentally on two human connected emotions, both of them unattractive: envy and resentment. It also rests on the primitive notion of an economy as being a cake of a fixed size to be sliced up according to some plan, just or unjust as the case may be. On this view, a crumb in one man’s mouth is a crumb taken from another man. Poverty is the result, therefore, of wealth: which is true enough if you define poverty as being a certain percentage of the average or median income, as is all too often done. If you define poverty as the lack of subsistence or even physical ease, it is quite otherwise.
In France, President Hollande, who during his campaign said (as if it were a sign of decency) that he did not like the rich”the rich of course being those who had more money than him”imposed a 75% tax on people earning more than a million euro ($1.3 million) a year. Initially, the Constitutional Court rejected this tax because the constitution forbids confiscatory taxes (France has an unfortunate history in the matter of confiscation), but the president stuck to his so-called “principles,” or at least to his election promise, and taxed the companies that paid their employees more than one million euro a year.
This has enraged French football (soccer) teams, who pay many of their players more than one million euro a year. The football teams are therefore going on strike, for if they cannot pay their players more than that amount, the best of them will simply decamp to neighboring countries.
The regime of bread and circuses such as is now regnant in most Western countries is dangerously dependent for its stability on its circuses, and of all the circuses in Europe football is by far the most important. The Times of London, for example, devotes far more of its space to football than to foreign news, and no public figure would dare avow a lack of interest in football for fear of appearing to be an Enemy of the People. When I listen to conversations in the street, football rivals in importance difficulties in love affairs. A strike by football teams is therefore a serious matter; if it lasted or resulted in permanent damage to the standard football played, it could lead to social unrest.
James Toback is a very intelligent screenwriter and director who discovered Harvey Keitel and also turned Mike Tyson into an actor of sorts, mostly playing Tyson. Toback relishes pushing people’s buttons and has a devilish radar for psychodrama”all of which comes into play in his latest movie, the riotous Seduced and Abandoned, a fly-on-the-wall depiction on how to get”or not get”a movie financed during the Cannes Film Festival. It’s also a backhanded homage to Orson Welles, a man Jimmy Toback is starting to resemble in girth, who famously declared that 95 percent of his time making movies was spent trying to get financing for them.
Oh, I almost forgot”yours truly is also in the picture, playing myself on my boat. I”m visited by Toback and Alec Baldwin (playing themselves), who solicit me for funds during a very liquid lunch onboard Bushido. They pitch their project, which they present as a remake of Last Tango in Paris but this time based in Iraq and renamed Last Tango in Baghdad. Toback and Baldwin make the Cannes rounds visiting the rich and famous looking for financial backing and prospective stardom for those willing to play and play. The pros, the men and women who do this type of lending for a living, are not impressed. One horrible type asks rather incredulously, “Last Tango in Baghdad? Who’s the jerk who thought that one up?” Others, such as the financier Arki Busson”a childhood friend of mine”remain unimpressed while lounging in their hundred-million-dollar seaside villas.
This is where the fun is. Jimmy and Alec show scenes of Marlon Brando in one of the filthiest scenes with Maria Schneider in the Paris tango movie. Just think of this: With bombs falling and Alec buttering up Neve Campbell while she has her fingers you-know-where, this scene is one of the main pitches to investors. Some cringe, others look at their shoes”bare feet rather, this is the Riviera”while the pros simply say, “It’s not worth twenty million; I”ll give you five.”
Then comes the serious part, which has earned the movie-within-a-movie rave reviews by every newspaper and magazine that has reviewed it”more than 35 as of this writing. Even the gray old bag of The New York Times called it splendid and a Toback triumph. I”m talking about the section of the film when the intrepid pair interviews Roman Polanski, Martin Scorsese, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Francis Coppola. These serious artists are actually marvelous because they speak about the movies in general and their own in particular in a manner they have not before because there are no public-relations creeps around nor journalists, so the four geniuses let it rip.
I attended the premiere in Cannes. I did not blink while I was on the screen, hence I saw myself and heard the cheers after it was all over, most of them coming from pros in the moviemaking business.
One of my closest friends in the world, producer Michael Mailer, stuck my name on the opening credits, which is the only embarrassing thing about the film. He even had me walk the red carpet like a star”no, I did not use a wheelchair but made the steps up into the Festival Hall on my own, so there”and at the party following the premiere two famous agents approached and asked me if I was starting a new career at 77. (Mikey had put them up to it.)
So there you have it: a movie within a movie, with the professionals in the know, others taking Jimmy and Alec seriously and offering serious money for Last Tango in Baghdad. It is also a tribute to the Cannes Film Festival, which has launched countless hits. I used to regularly attend when I was a very horny young man making my way around the Riviera flesh spots armed only with a Jaguar convertible, a tennis racket, and absolutely not a penny in my pocket. Returning after all those years was bittersweet. I had the yacht and the connections, but what was missing is the most important thing in the world: youth.
Seduced and Abandoned“which is what always happens when trying to put a movie together”is opening for one week in certain art theaters and then will regularly show on HBO, which bought it with alacrity and has big plans for it. Watch it and you will get an A-to-Z look on how a film is made. And make sure you don”t go out for popcorn and miss yours truly. In fact, don”t even look down at the bag.