Books postsSaturday October 31, 2015
The Debate Over 'The Arab of the Future'
Here are a few quotes about the graphic memoir, “The Arab of the Future,” which details the upbringing of cartoonist Riad Sattouf in Syria and Libya in the 1980s, and which is causing a sensation in France. They're all from Adam Shantz's excellent profile on Sattouf, “Drawing Blood,” in The New Yorker:
- “Sattouf is faithful to what he sees, and he doesn't beautify reality.” -- Subhi Hadidi, a leftist member of the Syrian opposition.
- “Sattouf describes things as they are.” -- Syrian-Lebanese poet Adonis.
- “[The book's appeal in France] rests on an unconscious, or partly conscious, racism. ... Because he's part Arab, everything he says becomes acceptable, including the most atrociously racist things.” -- Yves Gonzalez-Quijano, a French scholar of the Arab world.
- “The problem isn't Sattouf, who has written a funny and sympathetic book. It's the readers who think they've understood a society as complex as Syria because they've read a single comic book.” -- Elias Sanbar, a Palestinian writer and diplomat, who is now Palestine's ambassador to UNESCO.
The above quotes get at what I don't like about certain forms of political correctness in this country. I like the search for truth. If you find the negative in that search, well, welcome to the party, pal. To pretend otherwise isn't just PC; it's PR.
What is the difference between PC and PR? Is it that PC is for the marginalized, PR for the dominant? Either way, they're both anathema to the artist.
I've already ordered the first volume of Sattouf's book, which just went on sale in the U.S.. and will try to refrain from thinking I've understood a society as complex as Syria. But I imagine I'll at least understand it a little better. Won't be hard.
Being faithful to what you see: harder than it sounds.
“Vidal lacks the wound.”
-- Norman Mailer
Based on Leo Robson's book review/essay of Jay Parini's authorized biography, “Empire of Self: A Life of Gore Vidal,” in the latest New Yorker, it's probably more accurate to say Vidal hides the wound. That's not Parini's diagnosis, by the way; that's Robson channeling Anaïs Nin, whom Vidal met in 1945, and who always felt Vidal hid his true emotions in favor of a public pose of world weariness. Indeed, Robson comes to the conclusion—delivered in the first graf—that Vidal's famous bon mots were mostly a form of projection. He was cataloging himself.
Maybe. Robson, at least, makes me feel better for never having gotten into Vidal's novels—whether self-referential (“The City and the Pillar”), historical (“Burr”) or satire (“Myran Breckenridge”). But I still want to go back to the essays. Pre-9/11, of course.
The three saddest words in the English language? “Joyce Carol Oates,” Vidal said.
Michael Medved is His Own Best Critic
Finally reading “Hollywood vs. America” (1992), in which right-wing film critic Michael Medved argues that Hollywood makes the wrong movies for all the wrong reasons, and it's all Hollywood's fault. (As opposed to America's fault.)
What kinds of movies should Hollywood make? Medved brings up a few fondly remembered ones from his youth:
- The Great Locomotive Chase (1956), starring Fess Parker as a fearless Union officer who leads a daring raid behind enemy lines to steal a key Confederate train.
- The Buccaneer (1958), with Andrew Jackson and pirate Jean Lafitte winning the Battle of New Orleans
- The Horse Soldiers (1959), starring John Wayne and William Holden as Union cavalry officers in the Civil War
- John Paul Jones (1959), with Robert Stack as the great naval hero of the American Revolution
- And, of course, John Wayne's two-hour-and-forty-minute epic, The Alamo
Then he adds this:
I still recall every one of these long-ago entertainments with enormous affection, though I would never go so far as to offer them my blanket critical endorsement. Its easy to spot the artistic and historical shortcomings in such projects, to decry their jingoistic simplicity and to lament the way that America's enemies are callously reduced to two-dimensional bad guys. From a contemporary and politically correct perspective, one might well argue that my endless exposure to such blood-and-guts sagas between the impressionable ages of seven and twelve permanently warped my tender young mind by implanting the dubious proposition that our country's problems could all be solved on the battlefield. Nevertheless, I miss the energetic, flag-waving films of my boyhood and regret that comparable projects have found no place in todays movie mix.
Turns out Medved is a good critic after all.
Michael Medved movie night? Warning: prolonged expsure may cause jingoism and two-dimensional worldviews. But it's all in good, clean fun.
Michael Medved Quotes that Aged Poorly II
“Why is it inherently less valid for the American Family Association to try to pressure the networks to feature fewer homosexual characters on prime-time TV than it is for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination (GLAAD) to try to pressure the networks for more such characters? Both groups are engaged in totally legitimate efforts to influence major TV producers to broadcast images that correspond with their own views of what constitutes a good society.”
-- Michael Medved, “Hollywood vs. America,” 1992; chapter 19, “The End of the Beginning.”
Sigh. American Family Association was trying to deny the humanity of an unprotected group of people (particularly back then), while GLAAD was trying to assert their own humanity through visibility. GLAAD won. I hope Medved's evolved in this area over the last two decades.
Michael Medved Quotes that Aged Poorly
“Surely even sun-dazed Southern Californians can look beyond their hot tubs every now and then and see the wreckage that family breakdown is creating in American life. There is only one way to stop the epidemic of illegitimacy and the resulting poverty among children—and that is to bring back the stigma of unwed motherhood.”
-- Michael Medved, “Hollywood vs. America,” 1992, Chapter 8