Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Brother Al on Polanski and "Hollywood" - and just what does "Hollywood" mean to our "cultural warriors"?

Brother Al Mohler, Jr., who as President Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville KY has a large influence on Southern Baptist theology, uses the Polanski case to bash liberals and "Hollywood" in Morality, Hollywood Style Christian Post 10/04/09.

Mohler is too slick to slip into crass anti-Semitism. But, as the late blog pioneer Steve Gilliard used to remind us, to many conservative Republican Christians, "Hollywood" and "cultural elite" are among other things, synonyms for "Jews". So when I see big-name rightwingers start bashing groups they identify that way, I try to pay attention to what subtexts may be at work.

And its worth it for Democrats and liberals to actually use their heads on this one.

As I mentioned in my post on the Polanski case last week, I was uncomfortable with how Katha Pollitt formulated her criticism of what she called "the liberal cultural elite" in Roman Polanski Has a Lot of Friends The Nation Online 10/01/09: "The widespread support for Polanski shows the liberal cultural elite at its preening, fatuous worst. ... No wonder Middle America hates them." As I said in the earlier post, seeing as how even TV news has morphed into infotainment, I'm not convinced that "Middle America" hates Hollywood stars and directors.

Brother Al quoted those same words (without the ellipsis.) Hey, Brother Al, if you picked that up from my post you could have at least given me an "h/t"! Maybe Brother Al will pick me as the Unknown Liberal to pray for me to see the error of my Democratic ways. But he couldn't even cite her approvingly without identifying her as, "the feminist left-winger supreme". Which in Christian Right circles is pretty much the same as calling her a Satan-worshipping witch.

But Patrick Goldstein in the industry's hometown paper the Los Angeles Times writes in Is Hollywood really a hotbed of support for Roman Polanski? 10/06/09, responding to a claim by Terry Teachout in the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal:

Teachout rattles off the names of a host of filmmakers -- including Woody Allen, Jonathan Demme, Sam Mendes, Mike Nichols and Martin Scorsese -- who signed an international petition that "demands the immediate release of Roman Polanski."

There's only one problem: All of those filmmakers, along with Harvey Weinstein, live far, far away from Hollywood and, with occasional exceptions, make their movies outside of Hollywood as well. If you look up the rest of the names on the best-known petition in circulation, it is filled with the names of foreign filmmakers, writers and actors -- including the likes of Pedro Almodovar, Wong Kar Wai, Alfonso Cuaron, Isabelle Adjani and Salman Rushdie -- who also rarely set foot in Hollywood. If critics like Teachout want to claim that high-brow artists and writers have rushed to Polanski's defense, fair enough. But to say that Hollywood is in his corner, as part of a political argument that Hollywood is a liberal elite woefully ignorant of mainstream values, is just hogwash.

There's no petition going around with the names of the real Hollywood elite -- A-list filmmakers and studio chiefs like Steven Spielberg, Alan Horn, James Cameron, Amy Pascal, Jerry Bruckheimer, Brian Grazer, Tom Rothman, J.J. Abrams, John Lasseter or Michael Bay -- because the real Hollywood elite isn't supporting Polanski. In fact, they haven't offered the slightest hint of backing for Polanski. It's only European and New York-based artists, who clearly see the world in a very different light than the real Hollywood elite.
His observations apply to what Brother Al and to Katha Pollitt wrote, as well.

It's perfectly possible for people to have a more complex position on a complicated issue than for-or-against. It's also possible to take a straight-up for-or-against position on Polaski's extradition and still pay attention to reality. I would like to think that a leading writer for a liberal flagship publication like The Nation would take the time to do a little of the research Goldstein did for his article before holding forth with rightwing "culture war" buzzwords like "the liberal cultural elite" and applaud the (dubious) notion that "Middle America" (whoever she thinks that might be) "hates them" and with good reason.

Goldstein incorporates and essay by screenwriter Josh Olson into his article which is worth reading. Olsen reports that he counted 650 signatures on the two pro-Polanski petitions that he knew of that were circulating in Hollywood, and in using an expansive definition of which ones really belong to Hollywood, he finds only 35 names. Citing two writers who had said in the LA Times that “Hollywood is rallying behind the fugitive filmmaker,” he responds:

Well, speaking as someone who actually lives and works right in the heart of the city and the business, I can assure you that this isn’t even remotely true.

Their entire argument rests on just three things -- an incredibly poorly conceived off-the-cuff comment by Whoopi Goldberg, a petition that Harvey Weinstein is circulating, and that there isn’t a great hue and cry from Hollywood demanding that Polanski be brought to justice. I cannot speak to Ms. Goldberg’s painfully unfortunate comment, except to say that I have no doubt she didn’t mean it to come out quite the way it did. As for the lack of a hue and cry, I’m not entirely sure what we’re supposed to do.

I cannot pretend, as some have, to have spent the last thirty years gnashing my teeth at the fiend Polanski’s escape from justice, but neither can I pretend to be outraged that a convicted criminal who fled prosecution has been caught.
Perhaps I missed the meeting where these things were explained, but it just never occurred to me that I was supposed to stage a rally when something happened that doesn’t bother, interest or affect me in the least. ...

What we are NOT, however, is sitting around fretting about whether or not Roman Polanski will be displeased with us if we publicly state that we think raping children is a bad thing. ...

Then there’s Jonathan Kuntz, who’s quoted as believing “the local reaction may be a version of the ‘there, but for the grace of God, go I.’" Well, again, no, but thank you for the extremely ugly insinuation, and when DID you stop beating your wife, Mr. Kuntz? Does it occur to ANY of these people that we’re not all sitting around in a clubhouse smoking crack, patting each other on the back and hoping not to get caught molesting children? [my emphasis]
Melissa Silverstein has a blog called Women and Hollywood from a feminist perspective. She did a post just today called Women in the Entertainment Business Speak Out About Polanski. Among those she finds not siding with Polanski are Rosie O’Donnell, Eve Ensler, Rosanne Barr (who Republican rightwingers particularly hate), and Jamie Lee Curtis.

It's also very possible for someone to use the Polanski case to talk about the problem of this kind of rape without giving easy ammunition to rightwing culture warriors to bash all them thar' Hollywood Jew elitists. Silverstein provides a couple of good examples in these posts, Rape is a Feminist Issue 10/01/09 and Does Being an “Artist” Trump Being a Rapist 09/29/09. In the earlier post, she notes that the actual "Hollywood" that she saw had signed on to the pro-Polanski petition didn't include any women from Hollywood. She's also critical of what she sees as the silence of feminist leaders and Hollywood notables on the issue. But what she says on the latter is quite interesting and does not pander to rightwing stereotypes, e.g., "In my gut, I believe that the women of Hollywood are appalled by what is happening. The fact that they are silent is a reminder of how little clout they have."

This is already long. But I want to get back to Brother Al. As a very influential leader in the country's largest Protestant denomination, is it too much to expect that he would also have done some basic fact-checking (beyond quoting Katha Pollitt's careless generalizations) on just how many prominent figures in the movie business in Hollywood were actually supporting Polanski in fighting extradition before he used the case to bash "Hollywood"? Here's what Brother Al has to say:

The response of so many Hollywood leading lights to the arrest of filmmaker Roman Polanski now suggests that, at least when it comes to one of their own, sex with children is within the pale. This deserves and demands a closer look.

The cultural left has responded to the arrest a week ago of Polanksi with outrage -- directed not at Polanski but at the arrest. [my emphasis]
He goes on to claim, apparently with no basis in fact, that "over 100 Hollywood luminaries had signed a petition demanding Polaski's release." And he effectively adds this to the Christian Right's bill of complaints against all them Jew liberal Democrat elitists:

The moral gap between Hollywood and "Middle America" is vast, though for some reason many Americans blind themselves to this fact. The Hollywood embrace of Roman Polanski and their outrage at his arrest in Switzerland shines a floodlight on this gap.

Are art and artists above moral accountability? The Hollywood elite seem to believe so -- and even to be willing to lend their names to the defense of the morally indefensible. Is the celebrity above the law? Watch this case closely. [my emphasis]
On the latter point, as I explained in my earlier post, the careless reporting that has become chronic with our Establishment press will make it too easy to claim that Polanski got off light because of his alleged "Hollywood" support. As I understand it, even the most stringent sentence is likely to be no more than a year in prison. And given what seem to be real misconduct problems in the first trial - and, yes, even confessed scumbags have the right to a fair and legal trial - it's more likely that Polanski won't do any jail time.

I'm guessing that one of the Law and Order franchise shows will do an episode this season based on this case. Maybe their version will have a more satisfying outcome than the real-life one is likely to bring.

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