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THE OLD WAYS! The Old Ways pull us back toward Bush—and they pull us in a much-lauded film: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 31, 2004

THE INCREDIBLES (CONT): Incredible! Why don’t we all just agree to say that Clinton and Gore murdered Laci Peterson? That would only be slightly less daft than Kevin Drum’s claim in the L. A. Times—the claim that he and his poor abused cohort were misled about SS by the twin Dem terrors. To see a real journalistic obscenity, gaze again on the words the great blogger penned when the great L.A. Times came a-calling:
DRUM (12/29/04): I used to be a Social Security doom-monger. Like everyone else my age, I knew the familiar drill: Social Security is a demographic time bomb. Life expectancies are increasing. The baby boom generation is getting ready to retire. Every year we have a smaller number of workers supporting a larger number of retirees.

Politicians were eager to feed my fears. Bill Clinton urged us to "take action now to avert a crisis in the Social Security system." Al Gore made the Social Security "lockbox" a centerpiece of his presidential campaign. And George W. Bush insisted earlier this month that Social Security was "headed toward bankruptcy down the road." As a result, most young people today are convinced that Social Security will be gone by the time they retire.

“Politicians were eager to feed my fears,” Drum wrote—and then, he quickly named Clinton and Gore! Incredible! According to Drum, it was Clinton and Gore who “fed on the fears” of his poor abused g-g-g-generation! But how about that famous Frank Luntz poll, the one in which Generation X-ers said they believed in UFOs more than in Social Security (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/21/04)? That poll was taken in 1993, cranked out by the anti-SS propaganda machine that actually shaped the views of Drum’s cohort, and that had already done so for years. It would be seven more years before Candidate Gore would (intelligently) suggest that the surplus should be placed in a lockbox. But so what? In Drum’s bizarre world, it was actually Gore—arguing that SS was viable—who fiendishly “fed on the fears” of his friends. And what about the generation of conservative agitprop which actually misled Drum’s abused cohort? That was buried beneath the waves, as Drum—for reasons he needs to explain—simply lied to his L.A. Times readers, blaming a generation’s confusion on those established twin demons, Clinton/Gore.

Yes, we might as well agree to say that Clinton and Gore caused that wave in Sumatra. And readers, if you ever doubt the thing we’ve long told you—that careerist writers will do and say anything when the larger journalistic world comes a-calling—just gaze on Drum’s phantasmic words, in which he pretends that Clinton and Gore were the ones who misled his generation.

Why would Drum write such nasty nonsense? At THE HOWLER, we don’t have the slightest idea. But just like that, the e-mails came rolling, with resourceful writers looking for ways to defend the words of their lying hero. (No, we don’t believe—not for a moment—that Drum could believe the strange words he penned.) Several readers wondered why we focused on what Drum got wrong (in his first two paragraphs!) instead of looking at what he got right. Going beyond that, some writers struggled to find the glass one percent full:

E-MAIL: I agree with all the things you said today about Drum's article and SS. However, I think it misses a visceral rather than logical point.

Conservatives had worked hard for a long time to convince young Americans that SS would not be there for them. When Clinton and Gore started to talk about their plans to protect SS, this reinforced the idea that it was in trouble, that it needed saving. Most people make little or no attempt to try to understand the details or logic of the plans for SS on any side. They just have the impression that the Democratic plan is like a wagon train pulled into a tight circle fighting desperately to protect SS from relentless attack from savage forces. The privatization plan is like a breakout from the attack and a run to safe ground. There is no logic to this, it is purely an emotional understanding the public has developed.

So, in this sense, I think that Drum was at least partially correct. The Gore and Clinton positions did not convey a “Do not worry, all will be well” attitude. It conveyed a "If we pull tight and stick together we can still win, even though it looks bleak now" attitude.

Because Clinton and Gore didn’t (falsely) say that all was well, Drum’s account “was at least partially correct!” Another reader took a similar tack:
E-MAIL: Sorry, but I disagree with your Dec 30 column. I don't remember Clinton telling us that Social Security wasn't going bankrupt. And Gore's lockbox plan was a big part of his campaign and his statements still left me with the idea that Social Security was in trouble.
Because Clinton didn’t make the agitprop go away, Drum was apparently right to say that he caused it! The mailer continues: “Even if Drum is incorrect to start with Clinton, Gore, and Bush II he is not incorrect that they didn't dispell the myth.” But Drum’s account is incorrect—wildly, nastily, obscenely incorrect. A generation of polemicists actively worked to mislead Drum’s generation. But if you read Drum’s ugly piece, you were told it was actually Clinton and Gore! It was Clinton and Gore who played on their fears! Translation: Before Drum dares to challenge bogus CW, he has to bow to the reigning gods and pretend that it came from Clinton and Gore! Who “fed the fears” of a whole generation? We think you know the rules of this craft. Drum has to bow to the gift-giving gods and say that Vile Bill and Al caused the problem! And he has to pander to Bush, who apparently said something wrong for the first time “earlier this month.”

We don’t know when we’ve seen a more disgusting passage. But big bags of money get stuffed in the pockets of weak little fellows who type up such work, and Kevin Drum—lying right in your faces—always will have his defenders. They’ll pick through his words, looking for ways to pretend that he was “partially right.” In the meantime, readers of the Times are grossly misled in a well-scripted way—even as Hero Drum sets them right.

THE OLD WAYS: This past year, we thought we saw one great movie, Maria Full of Grace, and one interesting movie, The Passion of the Christ. (Cue e-mails from readers who didn’t see The Passion, but know that it was anti-Semitic because Chris Hitchens said so in Scarborough Country.)

And we saw one generally amusing movie, Sideways (we saw it again Wednesday night). But we’ve been surprised by part of the critical reaction, and we thought we’d note it today. For us, Sideways has a groaning narrative problem, one which critics have almost wholly ignored. And here it is: Why would the Virginia Madsen character (Maya) spend ten seconds with Paul Giamati’s Miles? Maya is gorgeous, experienced, smart, deeply soulful. By contrast, Miles is deeply disturbed and almost pathologically dishonest. He lies to everyone; he’s filled with self-loathing; and he abuses alcohol in a wide assortment of extreme public ways. Despite this, Maya does everything but wash out his socks by the end of this puzzling film. In her last speech (left on Miles’ answering machine), she reveals that she dutifully read his entire novel, and she boo-hoo-hoos about how tough his life must have been if his actual sister was anywhere near as nuts as the one in the book.

In short, this is the ultimate male-wet-dream/girl-friend-as-mommy flick, in which male writers and directors fail to see the odd alignment of their characters. In Sideways, a female character—no matter how impressive—exists to make it OK for the male, no matter how baldly disturbed he may be. At the end, Miles is knocking on Maya’s door, and we’re apparently supposed to think it’s all lovely. Why don’t reviewers note the obvious? That Maya should be barricading bookcases against the arrival of Miles?

Why don’t reviewers note this point? Because Sideways actually reflects the Old Ways. In this world, male writers and directors construct odd fantasies built on male privilege while the bulk of reviewers, male and female, fail to note the resulting absurdity. In this morning’s New York Times, Stephen Holden is the latest who fails to notice. In this passage, he describes the amusing character Jack, Miles’ womanizing buddy:

HOLDEN (12/31/04): The compassion that the director, Alexander Payne, and his fellow screenwriter, Jim Taylor, extend to Jack makes their portrait all the more devastating, since he is such a likable rat. By the end of the film, when he has broken one woman's heart and carelessly messed with another's marriage, a dirty little secret is revealed: some men, through looks and charm, have it so easy with the opposite sex that they never grow up because they don't have to.
But in fact, it’s Payne and Taylor who don’t have to grow up because critics like Holden hold them blameless. Why would a woman as accomplished as Maya spend time with a man as disturbed as Miles? There might even be a answer to that. But for Payne and Taylor, the question doesn’t arise. Nor does it arise for the critics.

In any society, the Old Ways pull hard. They pull us back toward a world in which the powerful have their way with the others. They pull us back toward the Bush agenda—and, reflecting a pampered and privileged age, they pull us back in Sideways.

DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL: Decades ago, a female friend told us how she’d viewed The Honeymooners as a child. She couldn’t get past the revulsion she felt when she thought about Ralph and Alice’s unseen bedroom, she said. How horrible must that little room be! And how awful was it—that a woman like Alice had to go there each night with her loudmouth, sweaty husband! We thought of that decades-old critique when Miles knocked on poor Maya’s door. But Sideways is built on the ancient male ways. By this time, Maya has already telephoned Miles to boo-hoo-hoo about how tough he has it. But why would a woman like Maya do that? Thanks to the privilege of the Old Ways, the makers of Sideways don’t ask.