Before I get started, I have to confess that before I watched this movie, I was prepared to hate it. The reviews that I was aware of were brutal and punishing, and knowing the treatment that many DC characters had gotten on the big screen, it wasn’t difficult to believe that once again, the Hollywood treatment had messed up yet another in the comic company’s vast pantheon of heroes. I forgot that critics make their bones not by fair reviews, but by bruising ones. Jonah Hex isn’t The Dark Knight, but it isn’t Green Lantern, either. First, let me say that I was surprised at who was in this movie. I recall that when it came out, much was made of the inclusion of Megan Fox in the cast. I’ve never been impressed with her acting skills, or the unscripted words to tumble from her lips, but neither one of those things is why she is cast in movies, and she appears to have been cast in this film for precisely the same reason. John Malkovich plays the villain, a Confederate general who decided in the late days of the war that civilians were legitimate targets, and who killed Hex’s family in front of him after Hex disobeyed Malkovich’s order to blow up a hospital, and killed Malkovich’s son, who was also his best friend, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, after he drew on him. Other familiar faces in the cast include Will Arnett, Michael Fasbender, and Adian Quinn. The movie opens with Hex, played by Josh Brolin, explaining how he found himself to be better at waging war than he had expected, until he’d made a decision to abide by his conscience, and what that decision had cost him. That decision also left him with one foot still stuck in the afterlife, and the ability to talk to the dead…a skill that comes in handy in his post-war career as shadowy bounty hunter with a price on his own head. We soon learn why his own head carries a price, as his aimless existence once again becomes focused when he learns from agents of the US government that the man who took everything from him, played by Malkovich, wasn’t dead after all, and with the aid of a doomsday weapon never built by the Federal government, means to finish the war with the destruction of Washington D.C. on the Fourth of July. The film proceeds to from confrontation to confrontation until Hex finally gets it right, and rids himself, and the world, of his old commanding officer, earning himself a pardon, and an interesting job offer, from the President, played by Aidan Quinn. I enjoyed Josh Brolin’s portrayal of Hex, a disfigured man shaped by the brutality of war and the loss of his family, who seems at peace with the unusual ability to talk to the dead, and his quick and sometimes humorous responses to the dead, and to the living who are about to join them. I am aware that this film is sometimes compared to the truly awful big screen adaptation of Wild, Wild West, which I can only assume is because of the doomsday weapon Malkovich intends to use against Washington D.C. I understand the comparison, but it isn’t a fair one. The acting is better, the script is more coherent, and Jonah Hex is paced much better than Wild, Wild West. In closing, this is not an edifying film. You will not become a better person because you watched this movie. It is not uplifting, although the ending makes clear that Hex understands that he has been given a second chance. It won’t change your life, and you won’t rave to your friends about how great it is. But it is a fun movie to watch while eating popcorn, and not taking it, or yourself, too seriously.
When I was still a mushy-headed youngster working on my B.A. in Political Science at the University of Michigan, the department’s resident Communist got to assign a bunch of reading to me (I’ve forgotten more about the history of the Soviet Union then I ever wanted to know) but she also had to get her licks in with works that were also critical of the US. One of those books was The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, by William Appleton Williams. I won’t bore you with a synopsis of what it was about. Rather I’ll simply admit that I modified the title for this post.
I wrote a while back about how society has been seduced by a show of emotion, rather than actual action, and the sacrifice that it requires. In that piece, I was pointing out how it had become in vogue to demonstrate the nouveau “moral” superiority, which doesn’t require the courage that characterizes actual morals. But, as we are wont to do, we have upped our game. How? Hashtag diplomacy.
It started a few weeks ago, with people from the State Department tweeting messages about Ukraine with hashtags intended to be catchy. Sure, it was ridiculous, and stupid, but I guess the relative lack of change to Russia’s intentions and actions in the wake of yet another speech from President Wonderful caused some desperation at Foggy Bottom. And as every highly trained and experienced diplomat knows, aggression and indifference to once-great powers will ALWAYS be stopped dead in its tracks by a really smart person tweeting a bon mot coupled with a super-serious hashtag.
But this weeks round of hashtags in response to the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria by members of Boko Harem (a terrorist group that another super smart diplomat named Hillary Rodham Clinton refused to classify as a terrorist group when she headed the State Department) were both irritating and infuriating.
It started with the First Lady making a duckface frown and holding a sign with a #BringOurGirlsBack. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The idea that people who kidnap girls, slaughter entire villages, and engage in slavery will somehow be swayed by such a moronic photograph led me to wonder…is she really so arrogant to think that this will change ANYTHING, or is this just more posturing…showing just what a great person you are and how much more YOU care, because you sacrificed a moment of your precious time being a scold to us to take a picture with a sign? But when the celebutarded got in on the act, it was unmistakably clear how they took the message.
The worst part of this isn’t the arrogance of a First Lady who fancies herself to be the second coming of Evita Peron. It isn’t professional diplomats who act like they’re twentysomethings who like fresh out of community college and stuff. It isn’t celebrities making useless and empty gestures that make me want to punch them in their smarmy little faces. It’s the fact that bothering to say anything at all when you clearly aren’t willing to DO anything about it, and take the risk that come with really making a stand tells the rest of the world that we’re a nation of weak and ineffectual navel gazers, which is really only true of our cultural and political elites who congregate on either coast, but in so doing, they invite attacks, which will sooner or later, require the rest of us to put our lives on hold to fight the threats that this shallowness invites. And it is the fact that such nonsense will require an even greater sacrifice from those who don’t engage in it that is the real tragedy of hashtag diplomacy.
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Once again, the greatest shibboleth of our time is front and center in the news again. “RACISM!!!11!!!” has once again been brought to the attention of society by the high priests of the Tyranny of Nice, and their crusade to punish the perpetrators of thoughtcrimes that the members of this exalted secular clergy have deemed worthy not just of shunning, but of stripping the offenders of all dignity, and even their property rights.
Last week, it was the comments of Nevada rancher Clive Bundy, who has allegedly failed to pay grazing fees to the Federal Government, which may or may not be due them, and which has, with their nonsensical regulation, made it impossible for all other ranchers in that part of Nevada to continue business. For this, the Bureau of Land Management thought it appropriate to show up with an army of well-armed rangers and contractors, to start stealing and euthanizing Mr. Bundy’s cattle. When other Americans took exception to the Federal Government’s heavy-handed approach (because everyone would be hunky dory with the police sending a SWAT team to your house over unpaid parking tickets), Mr. Bundy’s upstanding Senator, the estimable Harry Reid proved he could be counted on to do the right thing: He called Bundy and his supporters “Domestic Terrorists”. After the Federal presence was withdrawn, Bundy made the mistake of speaking to the New York Times, and committed the heresy of suggesting that black families might have actually been better off in other times, even under slavery, as even then, families were kept more intact than under a welfare system that disincentives families staying together in lieu of replacing fathers with government. (Or as I said at the time, LBJ gave them the “Life of Julia” 40 years before forcing it on the rest of us.) Yes, I’m paraphrasing, because Mr. Bundy, being a lifelong rancher and not an attorney or professional spokesperson made his remarks in an inartful way, including using the “other” N-word (“negro”), which certainly didn’t help the knee-jerk reaction and scramble to make the words uttered so radioactive that no one, least of all those being so tragically victimized by a political party that only gives a damn about their votes, would actually consider the substance of what he was saying.
The reaction from the media was predictable and expected. What I wasn’t prepared for was the sheer number and strength of the reaction from those on “our side” who adopted the instant condemnation usually reserved for those on the left, and used it to great effect to give the impression that it made anything that had ever issued from his lips unworthy of any consideration, and any action he had taken instantly invalid. But at least they were public in the condemnation, and were seen by all the right people doing so, thereby maintaining the illusion of “reasonableness” with those who still do not respect them or their opinions, and would be happy to do the same to them in order to avoid any honest discussion about real issues that might make someone, somewhere “feel bad”. This is how the right to not be offended is transformed into a cultural norm, that is held dear by a culture that celebrates everything that used to spark shame, and that abandons values that helped build a strong and vibrant society. This is how a people who reject God in their deeds and God in practice, as an outmoded and “superstitious construct” cultivate a secular religion rooted in a vague and nebulous concept of “nice” that only believes that offense is a worthwhile endeavor when its own high priests decide that something offends THEM.
I confess that I was slow to come to this understanding. I watched the reaction on “the right” last week to Mr. Bundy’s remarks with disappointment and alarm. It was clear to me that something was wrong, but it was like walking through a fog bank…you can make out shapes, but not see your surroundings clearly. But as I have listened and read about this week’s “MOMENT OF RACISM!!!11!!”, centered on the remarks, in private, by billionaire and L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling to his girlfriend, this understanding started to take root. First, there is Matt Walsh’s excellent piece on it, with this money quote that started me thinking about it in a way that I hadn’t before:
We permit and even celebrate most forms of evil and debauchery in our society, so our Moral Outrage energy is stored, ready to be unleashed anytime an old white guy utters something untoward about minorities. Having removed sins like baby-killing, pornography, sex-trafficking, and infidelity from the ‘Things to Get Upset About’ column, this seems to be among the only universally-recognized evils remaining.
Indeed. For all the Progressives like to mouth about “evolving” and “changing”, society hasn’t gotten rid of moral outrage, and the ugliness it sometimes breeds. It only changed the focus. And it allows us to ignore the ugly things that are celebrated daily, ugly things that we all end up lending our sanction to, willingly or unwillingly, as we give even more ugliness free rein while patting ourselves on the back and telling ourselves how nice we are for doing so, and what good persons we are because we feel that way about the offense or offender du jour. It’s an ersatz replacement for a real morality which is rooted in something far more permanent than what our thoughleaders tell us we should be angry about today, which, by some coincidence, never seems to settle upon their own activities, and it is why a President who sat in the pews at Reverend Wright’s church for years, and who is on record talking about “typical white people” and “That’s how white folks’ll do ya.” can pretend at profundity in response to the old rich racist without burdening himself with a scintilla of self-awareness about the sequoia jutting out from his own eye. It’s a moral authority that isn’t, and yet is immune from challenge. And this displays one of its most glaring errors: the entirely inconsistent application of its central precepts and and practices.
But the final piece fell into place for me when I listened to this op-ed from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the way home, and these two quotes brought my blurry perception into sharp focus:
Moral outrage is exhausting. And dangerous. The whole country has gotten a severe case of carpal tunnel syndrome from the newest popular sport of Extreme Finger Wagging. Not to mention the neck strain from Olympic tryouts for Morally Superior Head Shaking.
What bothers me about this whole Donald Sterling affair isn’t just his racism. I’m bothered that everyone acts as if it’s a huge surprise. Now there’s all this dramatic and very public rending of clothing about whether they should keep their expensive Clippers season tickets. Really? All this other stuff I listed above has been going on for years and this ridiculous conversation with his girlfriend is what puts you over the edge? That’s the smoking gun?
Exactly. It isn’t that we want to be moral as much as we want to be publicly seen conforming to the secular morality of the moment… to be seen by all the right people, sharing in the accord of a group superiority over not just the actions, but the very thoughts of another. And all with no greater justification than the avoidance of offense. A public piety that demands neither sacrifice, nor effort, and neither contemplation or reflection. Only the self-assurance of those, who like it says in the song, have partaken of “that wonderstuff that let’s you look up from a nod, smile and say “Thank God that wasn’t us.””
Donald Sterling’s greatest sin wasn’t being a racist. It was that he dared to believe that he could express doubleplusungood thoughts in private with the expectation of them remaining private, when that, more than any of his other actions by far, would be the most grievous of his multitude of sins. Or at least so the modern-day Pharisees of the One True Secular Religion would have us believe.
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