CBS versus Law & People

A little doubt likely invades anyone who listened to a recent CBS Evening News story about the U.S. government’s war on drugs. The network’s “legal” correspondent, one Fred Graham, informed his audience (people’s right to know) that the government was singling out so-called celebrities for investigation. At a certain point in his narrative, however, the information stopped dead, interpretation and advocacy began, and, on the receiving end, people no longer were entitled to know but were required to think in line with CBS’s sympathies. Mr. Graham and his editors were clearly on the side of the celebrities; the editing, manipulation of clips, and choice of arguments all subtly defended three men whom the law had called to account for some hanky-panky with narcotics: Mr. DeLorean, a fancy car producer; Mr. Gerulaitis, a tennis pro; and Mr. Mailer, a writer created by gossip columns and literary agents. What Mr. Graham, in the name of CBS, chose not to say is that there is both a legal and a moral dimension to being a so-called celebrity who violates laws by possessing drugs and using them almost in the open. The enforcement of morals may not work, we all know that, but a request for the rudimentary appearance of propriety may be beneficial. An American celebrity is a propaganda device, and exemplar, whether he ought to be or not. Those stars of yesteryear knew that much, at least. We have the impression that CBS does not buy the necessity of acknowledging this simple social truth: it seems to prefer to accord to the celebrities — shoddy individuals most of them — the right to transgress what the average American honors. This is what makes us suspect that, regardless of the avuncularity of its anchormen, CBS is not on society’s side. cc


The Glories of Comity

Among the anomic gang that edits and publishes the Village Voice, one man seems to us to stand above the unbridled rape of common sense and normative ethics in its pages. His name is Jack Newfield and, on occasion, he manifested some deference to the notions of intellectual and political fairness. No longer. Each November Mr. Newfield publishes something called “Newfield’s Annual Thanksgiving Honor Roll,” in which he routinely lauds creeps; however, up to now, he always tried to come up with one or two names deserving a modicum of respect. In 1983, he did not deviate from the routine (the worst creep honored: Mr. Seymour Hersh), but in the noncreep category, he gave a write-up to one of his awardees which induces us to suspect that we overrated Mr. Newfield’s ability to rise above the ordinary anti-reason thuggery perpetrated by VV on a weekly basis. Extolling Sen. Edward Kennedy (positively a noncreep) for delivering his well-publicized speech at Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Liberty Baptist College, Mr. Newfield writes:

Kennedy, on that night, delivered the single greatest speech by a modern politician I have ever read  . . . [he] spoke in support of universal values, and was not a limited trumpet call to a liberal constituency. In the biblical lion’s den, addressing 7000 skeptical students, Kennedy spoke for religious doubt, diversity, tolerance, democracy, acts of conscience, dissent, the ERA, and the nuclear freeze. He quoted Christ, Pope John, and the 25th Chapter of Matthew. Twenty years from now this speech will be published in anthologies, alongside the Federalist Papers of Madison, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and FDR’s first Inaugural Address.

But strangely, Mr. Newfield gave not one single word of praise to those 7,000 Moral Majority skeptics who would politely applauded Sen. Kennedy’s words that undoubtedly sounded quite at odds, if not inimical, to their own beliefs and convictions, and who, thereby, gave a glorious lesson about ideological, cultural, and political pluralism to Sen. Kennedy’s own constituency at Harvard, Stanford, Yale, or wherever before which a Jerry Falwell, a Weinberger, or a Kirkpatrick have no civil or human right to speak their minds. In an adjacent paragraph, Mr. Newfield confers a laurel on Congressman Richard Ottinger (positively a creep) hailing him as being:

… among the dozen best members of the House of Representatives when it comes to bending power toward humane values.

No wonder that Mr. Newfield idolizes Rep. Ottinger. They are partners in pliability with respect to the way that they twist and contort humane values that aren’t correctly coded or labeled for listing on the liberal agenda.  cc

The Newest Health Service

Publicized notions of human sociosexual conduct get curiouser and curiouser. There was the woman in New York who taught classes in masturbation; now there is one Cynthia Silverman of Los Angeles who “conducts a workshop for married women who are having, or thinking of having, extramarital affairs.” Ms. Silverman’s motives, of course, are of the highest order: she wants to see that “they don’t do it moronically or hurt themselves or their families.” Whether she mentions in her classes the miseries resulting from infidelity is not highlighted in this promotional effort.  cc

Silvermans of all kinds, and their ruthless imbecility, have been with us always, yet the puzzling aspect of the matter lies in its presentation. The article from which the above quotes were taken did not appear in National Enquirer or Village Voice. It was put out over the AP wire service, by the folks who supposedly supply this country with the fast-breaking, important news of the day. It was printed not in some metropolitan daily’s ultraprogressive lifestyle section but in a small-town, supposedly family newspaper, under an approving title: “Cheating can be healthy…” Healthy for whom? For the high school kids who look through the paper each day for local sports news and cafeteria menus? For the young husbands and wives browsing for local news and grocery-store sales? cc


The opinion that Norman Mailer has made it by virtue of his own hubris (chutzpah?) would seem a questionable assertion to those who have not been nourished on the New York schlock that is presented to the rest of America as “literature” and “criticism.” An inspiring example of how that system works was provided recently by Parade, an organ of pop liberalism for the lowbrow. In that feature, conceived as an interview (sort of?), Mr. Mailer matches his giant intellect against that of Clint Eastwood, a lanky Hollywood archetype of the post-Gary Cooper American:

MAILER: Does the question of moral responsibility weigh on you?

EASTWOOD:How do you mean?

MAILER: You can have arguments whether Dirty Harry reforms more criminals than he stimulates.

EASTWOOD: I never feel any moral problems with these pictures. I’ve felt they’re fantasy

MAILER: Come on. In Sudden Impact [Mr. Eastwood’s latest movie], three men are shot in the groin by a woman. It’s possible that some man or woman out there who never thought of doing that before, may now.

In a novelistic pastiche from the early 1970’s, Norman Miller is assassinated by a gunshot in the rectum. An image of being done in in such an unsavory way appears to be haunting him even after all these years. That obsession seems to obscure the above issue, on which both discussants spout trivia. Portraying violence in the arts can be praised as condemnation, condemned as stimulation, and dismissed as “fantasy.” However, those identifications of the problem are trite. What about the connection between morality and a sense of shock? Where is the point at which naturalism in the arts makes the worst cruelty commonplace, omnipresent in culture, wearing down the very notion of thrill and reducing it as a component of social ethics? Where does crime connect with the buildup of human sensitivities — the gist of civilization? Somehow, Messrs. Mailer and Eastwood have remarkably little to say on the subject. cc

Out in Left Field

During the 1960’s activist Tom Hayden kept in shape by carrying banners for miles in campus and convention demonstrations against the wicked Establishment. But having redirected his undiminishing ideological zeal into the less physically strenuous activities of electoral politics, this champion of the working class now finds other ways to flex his photogenic muscles. Recently Mr. Hayden paid $2,395 plus air fare to join a small group of Los Angeles Dodgers fans in a week of simulated spring training at the Dodgers’ training camp in Vero Beach, Florida. The price for a week of sunshine and calisthenics may put it a bit out of reach for the sweaty proles Mr. Hayden professes to represent, but his wife, Jane Fonda, thinks they’ve found a bargain. In a statement to the press, she said that she “fully supports” her husband’s decision to participate in the Florida training because it’s less expensive than seeing a psychiatrist.” Exactly what inexpensive treatments Mr. Hayden’s batting instructors use for cases of megalomania, grandiose delusions, and terminal adolescence were not disclosed.  cc

A Siskel

Under this title, we periodically take note of some strange occurrences in the pages of the Chicago Tribune’s Tempo section: they are called movie reviews. Allegedly, there exists a person by the name Siskel, whose elucubrations on movies are published there, but we somehow cannot believe that an authentic human being who was touched by primary education could have evolved into such a mixture of arrogance and mental aridity, and still be employed by any self-respecting daily. We suppose that — using the terminology of a recent futuristic movie — a Siskel must be a “replicant,” artificially constructed by the Trib’s ultra-archliberal left-wing faction, whom the publishers either do not control or don not read in print. He (it?) is by-lined as a “movie critic,” and this is what he had to say about one Richard Pryor and his latest “concert” picture — that is, a one-man show — entitled Richard Pryor — Here and Now:

The result is another comedy triumph for Pryor and one of those rare films that actually make you laugh out loud, sometimes uncontrollably.

In our perhaps limited perception, Mr. Pryor is as funny as a urinal covered with graffiti composed by a retarded onanist. His comic force can be compared — if we stay within the sphere of plumbing metaphors — to a defective toilet which causes laughs when flushing, instead of bringing refuse down, pumps it up right onto the bathroom floor. His “wit” consists of spouting profanities in monotonous cadenzas. What he is saying is stuffed with such banality that one’s brain shrivels. According to countless Siskels of this land he conveys the “black experience”; but the mere supposition of this is a grave insult to the memories of W. C. Handy, Bessie Smith., Louis Armstrong, Langston Hughes, or Ralph Ellison. Of course, the Siskels claim that Mr. Pryor represents an updated black savoir-vivre, a “street-wiseness,” an assertion that makes memories of Abbott and Costello, or even The Three Stooges, seem like wistful dreams of charm and sophistication; Pryor’s modernization is based on making juvenile cracks about the color diversity of private parts. To call him an actor, artist, or performer constitutes a slap at Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby, Leslie Uggams. He is unable to articulate a mental or social condition other than through foul language, screams, or an obscene gesture. We once attempted to watch Pryor’s cinematic routine, but we had to give up after 10 minutes: he struck us as a doleful microorganism who had renounced even instinctual groping toward a more developed mentality of a Homo sapiens. To be sure, there does exist primitive, naïve, and folksy art (and wisdom), but Pryor is a fraudulent version of all of them, while the Siskels are unable to recognize the differentiation and claim he is passing judgement on humanity.

Certainly, the Siskel in question indulges in ratiocinoation:

The concert film was taped in August in front of a racially mixed audience at three sellout concerts in New Orleans.

What he is trying to say is that if there are enough idiots to enjoy idiocy, the latter transforms itself into a value. This kind of audience, according to him, delights in being debased and dehumanized:

In fact, some of the funniest moments in the film occur when Pryor shouts back at his audience, telling them basically to shut up in a variety of ways.

And on and on. The Tribune’s own Siskel lives it when Mr. Pryor enacts (or maybe not?) vomiting on stage, and he climaxes in his highest worshipful laudation:

There is no more audacious performer around than Pryor. Who else would dare repeatedly to compare the president of the United States to his sex organ? No one.

This in a newspaper that every four years endorses someone for president.    cc