January 30, 2015

Now Playing

(Reviewed August 29, 2014)

A portrait of modern sanctity which — very oddly, in my view — asks not to be taken too seriously

(Reviewed August 27, 2014)

The movie it took twelve years to make — about a childhood that appears to be taking much, much longer

America: Imagine the World Without Her
(Reviewed July 31, 2014)

Another foray by Dinesh D’Souza into the lists in order to break a lance on President Obama — and Howard Zinn. At least the latter is effectively unhorsed.

(Reviewed June 30, 2014)

An austerely beautiful film by the Anglo-Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski that could hardly be a greater departure from his earlier My Summer of Love

ENTRY from January 27, 2015

One thing you may have noticed, as I did, about the media’s coverage of President Obama’s State of the Union Address last week, is how often the President’s grip on reality was called into question. This is nothing new coming from Republicans like Karl Rove, who wrote in The Wall Street Journal (pay wall) that the speech "was disconnected from economic reality." Likewise, Jonathan S. Tobin of Commentary noticed principally what was missing from the speech. These "absent acknowledgements of facts. . . gave the annual example of presidential theater a tone that was so divorced from the reality of Obama’s six years in office." But even the massively pro-Obama media may be beginning to think this or similar views of the matter worth reporting if not wholeheartedly endorsing. Thus Peter Baker in The New York Times wrote that the President "made no reference at all to the midterm elections, offered no concessions about his own leadership and proposed no compromises to accommodate the political reality." Nor was it just political or economic reality that the President was seen as avoiding. As Amanda Foreman put it in the London Sunday Times (pay wall), contrasting President Obama’s State of the Union with Bill Clinton’s in 1998, just after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, though both speeches were what Mr Tobin called "presidential theatre," Mr Clinton’s was different in that it "felt real. By contrast, President Obama’s State of the Union last week just felt surreal."

To say that someone has lost touch with reality used to be a common way to question his sanity, but an editorialist for The Wall Street Journal avoided that rhetorical trap by effecting a neat inversion. The President wasn’t insane, as this writer saw it. Instead, he was causing Republicans to doubt their own sanity, rather as Charles Boyer does to Ingrid Bergman in the movie Gaslight of 1944. "The only plausible rationale" for the President’s proposals, avers the Journal, "is that he thinks he can gain politically by driving Republicans nuts." Of course, that doesn’t rule out the possibility that he’s nuts. "Imagine," continued the editorialist, "if George W. Bush had proposed a $320 billion tax-rate cut in his 2007 State of the Union, following his rout in the 2006 midterm. He would have been hooted out of the chamber, followed by days of wondering if he’d wigged out."

Another old-fashioned way of saying that someone was crazy was to say that he had "lost his reason." I think that there is a case to be made that the now common practice of claiming reality for ourselves and denying it to our opponents suggests that the political culture in this country has lost its reason. It’s part of a larger flight from rationality brought on by a desire to short-circuit debate. It is much easier to avoid the views of those who disagree with us than to rebut them, and the simplest way to avoid them is to dismiss them out of hand as having nothing of interest or importance to say for one or more of three reasons: (1) they are not held in good faith but only as a cover for getting or keeping some selfish advantage; (2) they are stupid and therefore impermeable to reason and evidence or (3) they are insane.
  Full Entry

Media MadnessMy book Media Madness, is available for order from Encounter Books. Less a polemic than an attempt to understand the origins of the mass media’s folie de grandeur, the book is a warning even to those who are deserting the big networks, newsweeklies and large-circulation dailies not to carry with them into the more attractive world of niche media the undisciplined habits of thought that the old media culture has given rise to. To order this book, click here.

Honor, A HistoryAlso available, now in paperback, is Honor, A History, which was first published in 2006. A study of Western cultural artifacts, from the epics of Homer to the movies and TV shows of today, it is focused on explaining why Western ideas of honor developed so differently from those elsewhere — and especially from the savage honor cultures of the Islamic world. The book then goes on to trace the collapse and ultimate rejection of the old Western honor culture from World War I until the present day and to suggest the conditions that would have to prevail for its revival.

Recent Articles

Cowardice: A Brief History, by Chris Walsh January 10, 2015.
Can cowardice be something real if no one ever pretends to be a coward? — From The New York Times Book Review of January 10, 2015 ... Full Article

Strategic Thinking December 31, 2014.
Who took the politics out of politics and made it into a morality play? — From The New Criterion of December, 2014 ... Full Article

The Uses of Outrage November 30, 2014.
Have we got to the point where the public display of emotion is the only measure we care about of a president’s performance in office? — From The New Criterion of November, 2014 ... Full Article

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