Culture postsWednesday August 07, 2013
George W.S. Trow on 'All About Eve'
“All About Eve is a good marker in that it describes a shift from a Broadway and Hollywood studio reality to a television reality, and also a shift from a society of vanity, epitomized by Mankiewicz's heroine, Margo Channing, played by Bette Davis, to a society of narcissism, the Anne Baxter character, Eve Harrington.
”Marilyn Monroe was used as the television avatar, and she doesn't make it in the Broadway world, certainly, and George Sanders says her next move ought to be in television, and Marilyn Monroe says, 'Are there auditions in television?' She's just flunked an audition for a Broadway play, and George Sanders says, 'Yes, there are auditions in television. In fact, that's all television is.' All auditions.
“Well, so it was in 1950, and it's just a useful social marker, and I always want to refer to Diana Vreeland's famous remark, 'I loathe narcissim; I approve of vanity.' The shift from a society of vanity to a society of narcissim—not a small shift, vanity being one of those things, like sexuality itself, that humans are called upon to accept as part of their condition, and narcissism being something from another planet—and Mankiewicz is indicating not just that there's a devolution in American character but that this devolution is henceforth going to be at the top fo the American cultural hierarchy. I take Manciewicz's film very seriously, more seriously than I take Citizen Kane, which is a theatrical fantasy.”
-- George W.S. Trow, ”My Pilgrim's Progress: Media Studies 1950-1998,“ pp. 205-06
Narcissism (left) takes over from vanity (right), with television in the middle.
The Enormous Mass of Facts
I read this today in George W.S. Trow's book, “My Pilgrim's Progress: Media Studies 1950-1998,” which was published in 1999:
The man of today is a citizen of the world. He seems to be ubiquitous. It is as though he had a thousand eyes and ears and, alas, only one mind. Thought has two conditions. First, knowledge as food and stimulus, second, time for distributing and digesting that knowledge. But the first is so superabundantly fulfilled that it completely obliterates the second. Knowledge comes pouring in from all quarters so rapidly that the man can hardly receive, much less arrange and think out, the enormous mass of facts daily accumulating upon him.
Yeah yeah yeah, you say. We know all that already. Move on already.
Except that's not Trow writing in 1999. That's John A. French writing in Continental Monthly in March 1864.
Here's part of the rest of his paragraph:
The boasted age of printing presses and newspapers, of penny magazines and penny encyclopedias is not necessarily the age of thought. There is a worldwide difference between knowledge and wisdom. The one consists of facts as they are, the other of facts as they may be. The one sees events, the other relations.
1864. Not only before the internet, but before television, radio, movies, the automobile. Before James Joyce. Hell, it was written, or at least published, a mere 20 years after the first telegraph message was sent in the U.S. That message: “What hath God wrought?” But even then, even in 1864, the complaint was that we had too much information besotting our brains. We had too many facts and too little wisdom.
You can take this two ways:
- Each age speeds things up enough so that the rush of information will feel overwhelming to any mind developed during the slower times of 20, 40, 60 years previous.
- We're fucked.
Calvin and Hobbes Explains FOX-News 10 Years Before FOX-News
I remember seeing this particular strip when it was first published back in the 1980s. It's only gotten more relevant.
'Negroes Oppose Film': A 1921 NAACP Protest of 'Birth of a Nation'
I love the stuff you find in The New York Times archive. It's our history written in stilted language.
I was recently looking into D.W. Griffith's “Birth of a Nation,” for example, and came across this from May 7, 1921:
It's not just a world before the civil rights movement; it's a world before acronyms. (Five of the protesters were arrested, including three women and two ex-servicemen.)
The full article is available here. If you subscribe already. Which you totally should.
How Roger Ebert is Wrong in that Sundance Clip
The clip below has been making the rounds in the wake of Roger Ebert's death last week.
At Sundance in 2003, during the Q&A after a screening of Justin Lin's “Better Luck Tomorrow,” an audience member stands up, talks about the talent on screen and on the stage, then asks, or demands, “But why, with the talent up there, and yourself, make a movie that's so empty and amoral for Asian-Americans and for Americans?”
Then Roger Ebert stands up. Among other things he says is this: “What I find very offensive and condescending about your statement is that nobody would say to a bunch of white filmmakers, 'How could you do this to your people?' ... Asian-American characters have the right to be whoever the hell they want to be!”
Everybody loves this clip. The presumption of the one guy, the lusty defense by the other. It's a Hollywood movie in microcosm. We have our villain (the presumptuous bastard), our hero (Roger Ebert, RIP), our stance (moral).
Question: In what way is the villain right? And in what way is the hero wrong?
Roger asks why white filmmakers don't have to justify their choices. They do, but not as white filmmakers. Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese had to defend their choices as Italian-American filmmakers. Philip Roth spent a career defending his choices as a Jewish writer. Of course Coppola and Scorsese had to defend themselves from other Italian-Americans, or at least Italian-American groups, while Roth had to defend himself from Jewish groups. That's the presumption in the above clip. The questioner steps outside the racial lines we've all drawn. He's a chastising outsider in what, at best, is an internecine affair.
In a perfect world, yes, no artist, no person, is asked to embody their race, even though, in other contexts, such as the big screen on Friday (Jackie Robinson in “42”), and in the book I'm currently reading (“Hank Greenberg: Hero of Heroes”), we celebrate this. But we don't live in a perfect world.
I grew up in Minneapolis, Minn., Scandinavian descent. After college I lived for two years in Taipei, Taiwan, where I quickly realized that if I acted in such a way it wouldn't just be me acting this way. I wouldn't just be an asshole, in other words, I would be an American asshole.
Or would I? I suppose the greater question is this: Do majorities suffer from this type of myopia (seeing the one as representative of the whole) or do minorities only fear that they do? And is this fear its own form of myopia (seeing the majority as one entity) or merely common sense (people are the way they are)? This conversation isn't limited to racial matters, by the way. See: Cars/bicyclists, for example. See anything.
In the above, Roger is mostly correct. Asian-American characters do have the right to be whoever the hell they want to be. But the other dude is right, too. Justin Lin made his characters shallow and empty in a world that's already full of the shallow and empty. For that, Lin has been rewarded mightily by Hollywood. His new movie, “Fast & Furious 6,” opens in May.