Sunday, July 28, 2013

Response to a Revisionist

At another blog, American Pop Lit, I’ve posted a response to a recent essay by Michael Agresta at the Atlantic Monthly about the Western film genre. Read my response here:

If you’re interested in the direction of American culture, and of America itself, it’s worth a look.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Insanity of the Academy


The truth is that academy-spawned liberals, white and black, are incapable of changing this society. They’re too busy playing out weird psychodramas.

For instance, read this bizarre piece by Slate assistant editor Katy Waldman, in response to a bullying article by an aggrieved “perpetual grad student.”

The two articles are right out of a Tom Wolfe book about the 1960’s, Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers. (If Katy Waldman had had a real education, she’d have read it.) The two articles are in fact a fairly faithful reenactment.

There is structural racism (and classism) in America. It’s best reflected, ironically, in the hierarchical nature of the educational system. In their discussion, both women, and other women cited (patriarchical men being obviously beyond hope) are products of that stratified system.

(Katy Waldman is a graduate of Yale University. As every President from Bush I in 1988 on has been a product of Yale or Harvard, which shows an undemocratic monopoly of the position, it’s been my contention that the first step in democratizing the U.S. would be to close both institutions.)

Indeed, Slate magazine, despite its p.c. liberal posturing, is quite undemocratic, in that its hirees are invariably cluelessly privileged snots from elite, mainly Ivy League colleges.

When you play the Grievance Game—I’ve admittedly been a part-time practitioner-- it can eventually become so ridiculous that the only choice left is to throw up one’s hands and admit we’re living in a madhouse. As the articles from the two ladies well prove.


Here’s the truth of the matter. While the weeks-long focus on the Trayvon/Zimmerman case serves to reinforce both the grievance of the grad student and the guilt of the Salon editor, it has other consequences.

It divides, not unites, the races in this country. If you care to see what this can lead to, come visit Detroit, poster child of white-black division, to NO ONE’s benefit.

Let’s keep in mind as well that George Zimmerman is himself bi-racial, a working class man who was living in a working class neighborhood. That he became poster child for the nation’s ills, and its presumed collective guilt, tells me the media isn’t interested in addressing real issues, or in reality at all, but in playing out psychodramas while distracting the masses.

The other consequence is that larger issues are ignored.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Detroit Fiction



I have an Ebook for sale, containing three novelettes about life in the beat-down and tumultuous city of Detroit. The stories were inspired by my brief sojourn here in 2008. (I’m currently on another temporary stay in Motown, living inexpensively near downtown until I raise the funds to return to Philly.) I love the city—I was born here—but it’s a tough place.

The three tales are A.) “Kevin and Koreena”: a love story. B.) “The Zeen Writer”: a low-rent young vagabond writer arrives in the Motor City. C.) “Bluebird”: the story of a rock band led by two very different women.

One thing about Detroit: It’s REAL.

Buy the Ebook via Nook or Kindle. Thanks.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Geoffrey O'Brien Part II

(Part I:

Note the photo accompanying the Geoffrey O'Brien New York Review of Books essay, "Implacable in Texas":

Actress Natalie Wood is dolled up, Hollywood-style. Which undercuts the reality, just a trifle.

We're not in the real West in "The Searchers." We're inside a Hollywood dreamscape. A gorgeous dreamscape. While "The Searchers" is not the #1 Greatest Western in my new Ebook, ABOUT WESTERN MOVIES (Kindle or Nook), I much prefer it to more contemporary Westerns intent on portraying the West solely as a brutal and unattractive landscape.

The question here is: Why is "The Searchers" so highly ranked by liberal elite film critics?

Part of it is simple herd mentality. A consensus on the film has been reached. Students are told in the academy it's the greatest movie Western. The best academy students are nothing if not obedient. They rise through the educational system by eagerly raising their hands, always giving the expected answer.

Instinctive trend followers like Jonathan Lethem sniff out this consensus. They make their way by presenting what the herd wants to read: confirmations of indoctrinated herd conclusions and ideas. Lethem writes a long essay about his experiences viewing "The Searchers." No judgement given about the movie. None desired. Lethem's essays are about feelings, which invariably are feelings to which other well-placed herd members can relate.

But, there has to be more. "The Searchers" must genuinely touch something real and deep within many of these people. The sensitive Geoffrey O'Briens, if not the opportunistic Jonathan Lethems.

Contrary to what O'Brien claims, what touches them isn't aesthetic unity. "Shane," for instance, has aesthetic unity. It's better as a pure work of art. Even slightly lesser Westerns like Henry King's "The Bravados" and Anthony Mann's "The Far Country" have better artistic unity than does "The Searchers."

Is it then the depiction of racism in "The Searchers" which appeals strongly to the film's advocates? Yes and no. The 1946 Western, "Duel in the Sun," presents a more blatant image of white racism, beginning with the big opening saloon scene, on through the depictions of the characters played by Lionel Barrymore and grinning bad son Gregory Peck. Peck's exploitation of Jennifer Jones's half-breed Pearl, his love-hate feelings toward her-- a mix of contempt and attraction for her-- is melodramatic, yet intense and real. It's also a naked metaphor for larger exploitation.

In "The Searchers" we have white captive Natalie Wood exploited by Indian Chief Henry Brandon. As in "Duel," both actors are Hollywood attractive-- victimizer and victim-- and both are actually white. (Meaning, the actors are white.) What's different is the racial equation: the person victimized.

What notes does the story of "The Searchers" play on intellectuals? Why does this film move them, while "Duel in the Sun" fails?

I don't have an answer. I suspect "The Searchers" presents white liberals' own fears toward the Other. In John Wayne's character Ethan Edwards they're seeing replayed their own attitudes. Their own deeply-buried fear and racism suddenly bubbles up before them on a movie screen. I can see how for them it can be a shocking experience.


It's un-p.c. for me to say it, but didn't this same elite white liberal community project their own fears and racism onto hapless watchman George Zimmerman?

Zimmerman as overzealous cop-wannabe? Likely. Zimmerman as racist?

Zimmerman is a bi-racial man whose past shows anything but racism toward black people. We now know his history-- tutoring black kids; taking a black woman to his prom. Living in a mixed-race environment-- an environment that made him far more experienced, nuanced and real about race relations than the sheltered Ivy League-spawned white-guilt media commentators judging him. The media show we're subjected to is merely the working out of a media-elite psychodrama. The creation of another movie.

It would be much safer for America and race relations if they kept the psychodramas in art house revival movie theaters, via classic Western movies, rather than impose their psychic fears, guilts, and needs upon greater society.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Geoffrey O’Brien’s Canyon Leaps

The Geoffrey O’Brien essay in the New York Review of Books, “Implacable in Texas,” like everything in the NYRB except the advertisements says more about the mindset of today’s critical establishment than it does about its topic.

The essay’s topic is Glenn Frankel’s book on the 1956 John Ford Western “The Searchers.” Geoffrey O’Brien equals Glenn Frankel, in that O’Brien agrees with everything Frankel says. They carry the exact same viewpoint toward the movie and the historical circumstances behind the movie. They could be the same person.

The Geoffrey O’Brien essay is filled with questionable assertions and canyon-sized leaps. Including a canyon in his essay he’s completely missed.

“Are these later episodes scenes that John Ford could’ve filmed?” O’Brien asks loudly about the inability of rescued white captives to readapt to white society.

Except, John Ford did film those scenes, a mere five years later, in “Two Rode Together.”

Geoffrey O’Brien asserts: “—gestures and exchanged glances also establish that Ethan and Martha love each other.”

NO. They don’t “establish” anything—except within the cultural establishment. O’Brien is repeating an assertion which has become established. The gestures suggest that Ethan and Martha might love each other. Or that Ward Bond believes they might. Or maybe he’s just drinking his coffee. Repeat the inference enough times and everybody believes it.

O’Brien: “The search advances. . . .”

No, it meanders.

O’Brien: “There is an aesthetic unity. . . .”

No. There are fragments of unattained aesthetic unity.

O’Brien: “But the poison that seeps into ‘The Searchers’ is the mixing of bloodlines.”

A melodramatic sentence and an overstatement.

Other Westerns are stronger on the racial theme, or on racism, including ‘Two Rode Together,’ but many others, even ‘Duel in the Sun’ and ‘One-Eyed Jacks,’ not to mention ‘Ulzana’s Raid,’ which is much tougher and more “shocking” on the white-Indian conflicts than either of Ford’s movies. Conversely, another Western, “The Magnificent Seven,” handles the theme of racism far more subtly than Ford’s much hailed movie.

“The Searchers” is stagey in that it telegraphs everything. John Wayne looks ominously off-screen, directing the audience. “Don’t ask me,” he intones. “Don’t ever ask me.”  Dark shadows, someplace, which we never see. They’re in the wings of the theatre.

O’Brien: “There is a ragged sense of pain at its heart.”

This is standard MFA-style literary bathos. I felt pain in my stomach reading it.

O’Brien: “—it channels a live current of emotion directly from some unhealed hurt, some old well of fear.”

Here Geoffrey O’Brien is layering on the bathos, bathos which thankfully isn’t too much in the movie.


Author Glenn Frankel has written an excellent book, but the book itself contains at least one huge leap. Frankel says about the religious settler family, the Parkers: “They were tribesmen and warriors, just one tenuous step removed from barbarism. Not so different, in truth, from the native peoples they met along the way.”

This is a gigantic leap, seeing that the Parkers and the Comanche Indians came from vastly different cultures, at completely different levels of civilization. Yet I’m sure that reviewer Geoffrey O’Brien agrees with Frankel’s statement implicitly.

Frankel’s statement is revealing. It says a great deal about the world view of the two men; about how they view America’s past and how they view elements of American society. I think it says much about how the intellectual class views, for instance, someone like Sarah Palin. It’s a viewpoint, not incidentally, which has colored depictions of the West, and Westerners, over the last 40 years of moviemaking.

It’s a topic I cover in my new About Western Movies ebook. But I do want to say more, here, about Geoffrey O’Brien’s essay, about “The Searchers,” and about the herd mentality of today’s intellectual elite. Stay tuned. That post is upcoming, when I find time to write it.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Elitist Bad Writing

Esteemed literary personage Geoffrey O’Brien of the Library of America demonstrates what’s wrong with today’s literary scene. He writes not for the public, but a handful of the pretentious. Here’s an example from an essay in yesterday’s New York Review of Books:

“It is all about information being passed along and shared, but by whom, with whom, and toward what end? In laying out the elements of these stories—paying particular and sensitive attention to the personalities, so far as they can be surmised, of the individuals caught up in them—Frankel asserts no resolution beyond a nagging sense of the “relentless ambiguity” embodied by Ford’s movie. An unhealed historical wound finds expression in a film whose extraordinary beauty cannot assuage the contradictory and painful emotions that resonate at its core.”

Say what? As an old friend of mine used to say, “Spit that shit out of your mouth and speak clearly.”

I’ll have a few remarks about the actual essay upcoming.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

What Sherman Alexie Might Say


If famed Native American award-winning author Sherman Alexie were to say anything, he’d talk about Johnny Depp, and the wonderful thing Johnny has done, taking upon himself the collective guilt of the white race—over its treatment of Native Americans—by generously starring as Tonto in the new Lone Ranger movie.

Hollywood used to divide the world, or at least the West, between Good and Bad Indians. He, Johnny Depp, Executive Producer of the new Lone Ranger movie, has flipped the script, dividing the world, or at least the West, between Good and Bad whites. Most, needless to say, are Bad—from cretinous backwoods-crazy Cavendish and his gang, to genocidal “civilized” folks expanding non-environmentally approved railroad development West. Johnny Depp is showing this, on a big screen, for the benefit of all, while proclaiming to the world from his Cross of Guilt that he Johnny Depp is a Good white man. Maybe the only one.

Does everyone see what Johnny has done?

He’s made Tonto—Tonto!—the star, and relegated the kemo sabe Lone Ranger to sidekick. Or afterthought. To make things more humorous, the Lone Ranger is played by Armie Hammer, scion to billions.

We have enlightened white man Depp, in white face—reverse Al Jolson; get it?—with a bird on his head, showing less enlightened even more privileged Armie how to be as enlightened as he, Johnny Depp, is enlightened.

If you thought the movie was about the West, or the Lone Ranger, or even Native Americans, you'd be wrong. It’s about the guilt of the civilization which built the railroads and not incidentally created the movie studios and their obscene profits (or, in this case, losses). More than this, it’s about Johnny Depp. It’s about the position of being a hyper-successful Hollywood actor when you know down deep you don’t deserve it. The only way to mock that success which you hate but you need and want is to incessantly mock it and the entire studio-CGI-fake Hollywood system behind it, and the media, and yourself, by playing a clown.

It’s about collective guilt and it’s also about Hollywood narcissism backed by non-Native American western-technology technocrats and hundreds of millions of bucks. Er, the green kind.

Depp is repeating the same crime he opposes. He doesn’t know it, yet very much knows it at the same time. He’s making the precious privileged white person—himself—and his progressively-sensitive feelings the center of the narrative. Generous stand-in for the genuine article, which presumably couldn’t be found. You see, it’s the only way it could work, even if it turns out it didn’t work. We know it’s not Tonto beneath the make-up. It’s Johnny Depp!

“Johnny Depp Died for Your Sins.” It’s not about Native Americans. Not at all about Native Americans. It’s about Johnny Depp expiating his own feelings of guilt with his overdone get-up and his play-acting posturing he’s crucifying himself before Hollywood cameras—and making millions of white man dollars in the process.

(Buy my new ebook, About Western Movies, full of unpopular speculations, at Amazon’s Kindle Store here: 

or at Barnes & Noble Nook Books here:

It’s popularly priced. Better than a flop Hollywood film.)

Sunday, July 07, 2013

About Western Movies


My latest ebook, ABOUT WESTERN MOVIES, is on sale at Amazon’s Kindle Store, here:

--and soon will be also at B & N’s Nook Books. I promise some strong writing is contained within, along with a host of ideas not just about Westerns, but about our culture. About us. From the most fearless critic around. Buy it now.

(Among other topics, I discuss the greatest Westerns. There could only be one #1 on the list—for which I give reasons. Read the book to find out. Thanks.)

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Celebrating America


Here’s a YouTube video which includes the most famous scene in John Ford’s classic Western, “My Darling Clementine.” No, it’s not a gunfight.

Note the patience Ford has in developing the scene, to derive maximum impact when the “action” begins. Marvelous pacing. Note also the humanity of Henry Fonda’s portrayal of Wyatt Earp. John Ford presented characters, not caricatures. A far cry from what we’re subjected to in today’s movies.

(My new ebook, on the Western film genre, should be out this weekend. It discusses scores of Westerns, some as good as this one and others not.)

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

For the Fourth of July


For the Fourth of July, the text of the Fourth Amendment, which is apparently being violated by the mass surveillance program of the National Security Agency:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”[

Monday, July 01, 2013


Here are a couple unquestioning Golly Gee! early reviews for the latest Hollywood blockbuster movie:

From “adventure” author Jodi McClure:

Or from young Zachary Marsh, obvious consumer of too much media:

Here’s my own “pre-review” of the new Lone Ranger film. I could be wrong. Who knows?

I have a suspicion the experience will be similar to seeing “Iron Man III” or a score of other recent brainless Hollywood offerings. But I could be wrong. I hope I am.