Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Adam Serwer: ‘The Myth of the Kindly General Lee’

From The Atlantic:

The myth of [Robert E.] Lee goes something like this: He was a brilliant strategist and devoted Christian man who abhorred slavery and labored tirelessly after the war to bring the country back together. 

There is little truth in this. Lee was a devout Christian, and historians regard him as an accomplished tactician. But despite his ability to win individual battles, his decision to fight a conventional war against the more densely populated and industrialized North is considered by many historians to have been a fatal strategic error. 

But even if one conceded Lee’s military prowess, he would still be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans in defense of the South’s authority to own millions of human beings as property because they are black. Lee’s elevation is a key part of a 150-year-old propaganda campaign designed to erase slavery as the cause of the war and whitewash the Confederate cause as a noble one. That ideology is known as the Lost Cause, and as historian David Blight writes, it provided a “foundation on which Southerners built the Jim Crow system.” 

Read the full article.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Who’s the Dummy?

(Left photo) Max Terhune (center) with “Elmer” and John Wayne in the “Three Mesquiteers” western ‘Pals of the Saddle’ (1937); (Right photo) Matt Bennett with “Rex” in the TV program ‘Victorious’ (2010-13)

Some of the most surreal moments that I've ever seen in Hollywood movies were in the “Three Mesquiteers” B-western film series (occasionally featuring a pre-superstardom John Wayne) from Republic studios in the 1930s and ’40s. These cowboy movies were aimed at juvenile audiences and reflected a simplistic, clean-cut outlook on the world, but otherwise, they portrayed a relatively verisimilitudinous view of their western setting. For this reason, it was downright bizarre to see one member of the titular trio, Max Terhune as Lullaby Joslin, toting around a ventriloquist’s dummy and having it “talk” in a thrown voice. The true surrealism of these movies was how the other characters simply accepted the dummy, named Elmer, as nothing unusual, as not giving it a second thought. When watching these movies once in a while on cable TV, I would think to myself, “Don’t these other characters see that this adult man is carrying around and sometimes speaking through a ventriloquist’s doll?” The other characters’ unremarked acceptance of “Elmer” is what gave these movies their air of the absurd. 

I kept thinking of Lullaby Joslin and Elmer when I watched teenager Robbie Shapiro (Matt Bennett) and his ventriloquist’s doll, Rex, on the recent teen sitcom Victorious (2010-13). Robbie's friends accepted “Rex” to a certain extent, but not completely. While the friends accommodated Rex most of the time, they were still a little weirded out that a teenager would not only almost always carry around a ventriloquist’s dummy, but also treat the puppet as a separate person. The friends never completely got over seeing Rex as a manifestation of Robbie’s troubled mind. While watching Victorious, I kept thinking that the reaction of Robbie’s friends to Rex is how the other characters in the “Three Mesquiteers” movies should have reacted to Lullaby Joslin and Elmer.  But by having these characters behaving as though nothing unusual were going on, these innocent-oriented westerns provide Hollywood cinema with some of its most bewildering moments.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Francis Wilkinson: ‘American Politics Is Now Democrats Versus Authoritarians’

Cartoon by Dave Granlund

From Bloomberg.com:

The proximate cause of the difficulty for Democrats is that Republicans are suddenly fond of subpoenas again. They plan to issue them to “a wide variety of Obama administration officials” in connection with the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said last week: “The American people deserve answers about how such abuses could happen.”

This is a lie, of course. Not the part about subpoenas. The untruth is the notion that imagined past abuses by Obama officials, rather than present abuses by Republican senators, will drive these investigations....

One hallmark of authoritarian politics, in addition to an adversarial relationship with the truth, is ignoring the law as it applies to party interests while deploying it as a weapon against political opponents. For example, party politicians might ignore lawful subpoenas intended to expose their corruption, while subsequently using subpoenas of their own to construct a phony case of wrongdoing by opponents.

Read the full article.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Sunday, April 26, 2020

David Parkman: ‘Election Whisperer Rachel Bitecofer Explains Everything’

“Democrats fall in love, and Republicans fall in line.” —old Washington saying about the respective political parties’ attitudes towards their presidential candidates