SUMMER BOOKS AND A BIT OF SPRING CLEANING: Marcotte and Marcus, here at long last!


Part 4—Kakutani's review awaits:
Is Michio Kakutani "the stupidest person in New York City?"

We're totally sure that she isn't. Among other things, she proved herself to us last fall with this comment on Hitchcock's best film, part of her review of a new book about Hitch:
KAKUTANI (10/25/16): As with other serious books on Hitchcock, this volume will be judged, partly, by how closely the author’s take on various films accords with the reader’s own. In this case, “Notorious”—Hitchcock’s darkly brilliant masterpiece, in this viewer’s opinion—is hastily dismissed in a couple of pages, while the self-important “Vertigo” (which seems to be enjoying a surge in popularity these days) is minutely analyzed and dissected.
We agree with that assessment of Notorious, a spectacularly well-crafted thriller and a "darkly brilliant" exploration of men's occasional loathing of women, including the women they think they love.

That loathing was frequently studied by Hitchcock, from (let's say) A Shadow of a Doubt (1943), in which visiting, much-loved Uncle Charlie turns out to be the Merry Widow Murderer, on to the lunacies of Psycho (1960), in which Norman Bates loves Mommy so much that he has to kill everyone else, with a psychiatric explanation tossed in at the end.

Kakutani's take on Notorious v. Vertigo largely accords with our own. On that basis alone, we feel quite certain that she isn't the person described in the headline of a recent piece at Slate.

In that recent piece at Slate, one of the youngsters noted the fact that Kakutani "has decided to step down as chief book critic" at the New York Times. (We're citing language from the New York Times' official announcement.)

From that darkly Stalinist language on the part of the Times, we aren't sure if Kakutani is leaving the Times altogether. That said, she's been at the Times for 38 years, including 34 years as a book critic.

Back to Slate! One of the kids, enjoying some snark, authored a piece which ran beneath an unflattering pair of headlines. It drew on an assessment of Kakutani once thoughtfully voiced by Jonathan Franzen. Slate's headlines went exactly like this:
“The Stupidest Person in New York City”:
How Authors Responded to Michiko Kakutani’s Harshest Reviews
The youngster recalled a half dozen of Kakutani's "harshest reviews," quoting the unpleasant reactions of the authors in question. In the case of a few reviews, Kakutani's assessments are cherry-picked, making it seem that she had lustily slammed a book which, in fact, she'd reviewed rather un-harshly.

Whatever! Rather plainly, Kakutani isn't the person Franzen described in the headlined quote. That said, we were struck by the piece in Slate because of the pit bull that didn't bark—because of the very peculiar, extremely harsh Kakutani review which goes completely unmentioned.

Now that our land is the land of Donald J. Trump, that harsh review, from 1999, throbs especially darkly. Trust us! Slate's youngster has never heard of that highly peculiar review. Neither has anyone else, though it ran on the Times' front page as a stampede was occurring.

Our ignorance of that peculiar review bespeaks the liberal world's lazy failure to function over the past twenty-five years. How did we achieve our current state? That peculiar review helps describe our path to the eve of destruction.

We'll turn to that peculiar review before the week is over. Today, we'll start to perform a type of spring cleaning on our midsummer desks.

We'll touch on one piece we've frequently cited, and on another we've never mentioned. We think the first piece is darkly revealing. We think the second piece raises a fascinating question about the way our discourse works.

The first piece, by Amanda Marcotte, ran at Salon in June. We've often made it a coming attraction, but we've never made good on our pledge to review it.

Even today, we're going to skim past Marcotte's lengthy essay, in which she tore her hair, keened and wailed about the fact that, even in June, Trump voters weren't willing to call their liberal friends and admit that they had been wrong, oh so wrong.

Poor Marcotte! Her lengthy, 31-paragraph piece ended with this lament:
MARCOTTE (6/21/17): There will be no catharsis, no outpouring of regretful Trump voters begging for forgiveness, no moment of reckoning where we liberals get to hear them say, “You were right and we were wrong.” The best you can hope for is getting a picture of them in their Make America Great Again hats now, so you can watch them squirm and make excuses in 10 years. Actual remorse, unfortunately, is never coming.
"We liberals!" That's greatly like Us! According to Marcotte, We'll never get to hear Them beg for forgiveness! Those People will never call us up to say that we were so right all along!

Our view? We think Marcotte's piece is darkly foolish, but it's very much just like Us. It never seems to cross her mind that Trump voters may imaginably have some legitimate complaints or viewpoints of some sort, or that We ourselves, Over Here in our own liberal tents, may perhaps, on the rare occasion, be dumb, close-minded and tribal too, not unlike The Others.

Marcotte speaks to various experts to help us see how amazingly irrational Those People actually are. That said, for one brief shining moment, she's willing to throw this in:
MARCOTTE: To be clear, this mentality is hardly unique to Trump voters. As the psychologists and researchers I spoke with explained, nearly all people have this sense of in-group loyalty and unwillingness to take a critical eye toward their chosen politicians and parties. Barack Obama, for instance, spoke directly to a lot of liberals who saw themselves in his urbane erudition and modern sensibility, and felt their vote for him was as much a vote for membership in the liberal tribe.
Say what? Nearly all people, including us liberals, have the sub-rational tribal instincts her experts told her about? Can that possibly be right?

For the record, that's Marcotte's 14th paragraph, of 31 grafs in all. For a good time, see Marcotte tell you this in that one paragraph, then completely ignore the point in her other 31.

It's darkly humorous to see this alluring point expressed, and then completely ignored. That said, it's very much the way Our Tribe does politics.

Over There, in the tents of The Others, (many of) Those People are, in fact, displaying loyalty to their leader, Donald J. Trump. But uh-oh! Over Here, in our own liberal tents, we've displayed unbending loyalty over the years to an array of tribal leaders, not excluding Kakutani herself.

This helps explain why the well-intentioned kid at Slate has never heard of that deeply peculiar 1999 review. It helps explain why our kids continue to traffic in useless snark on this, the eve of destruction.

Our liberal team tends to very harsh, and we tend to be very dumb. We've displayed these traits for the past thirty years, but due to the traits those experts described, we're completely unable to see this.

For ourselves, we aren't going to spend more time picking through Marcotte's lament. But that essay struck us as a road map to the liberal world's role in the ascension of Donald J. Trump, king of a very dumb world.

In the case of Ruth Marcus, we refer to this op-ed column in the Washington Post. In the piece, Marcus expressed a universally held view:

Donald Trump Junior shouldn't have held that meeting with that now-famous Russian lawyer.

Marcus expresses the point quite strongly. In hard-copy, her headline said this:

"The. Meeting. Was. Not. Okay."

As a columnist, Marcus is perfectly sensible, perfectly serious and perfectly bright. In part for those reasons, we were struck by this aspect of her column:

She railed, quite hard, about the claim that Junior should never have gone to that meeting. But we couldn't really find the place where she told us why.

He had been offered "information." Should he have refused to hear it?

Let's start with that question tomorrow. Kakutani's peculiar but non-notorious review will of course still await.

Tomorrow: Musings on information


  1. It used to be that the phrase "ambivalence toward women" was a thinly veiled way of calling someone gay. I think it perfectly describes Somerby's attitudes toward women in political journalism. He knows he isn't supposed to express his disdain for women as a gender, but he cannot help disliking them. The source of his dislike is that they are having good careers while being imperfect, while he is not, despite trying to be more perfect than they are.

    Somerby says: "We agree with that assessment of Notorious, a spectacularly well-crafted thriller and a "darkly brilliant" exploration of men's occasional loathing of women, including the women they think they love."

    This is the heart of his dilemma. He isn't supposed to loathe women but he does. So he needs a reason -- it must be their fault. He cannot loathe all women -- too transparent to others. So he needs a few targets, like Maddow and Marcotte, who can be seen to richly deserve his mistreatment of them. Otherwise it will be too obvious to all that he doesn't like any women much and that just ain't the liberal way. It may be the male way, the Berniebro way, the Southern white gentlemen's way, the standup comedian's way, but it isn't the liberal way to dislike women and consider them incompetent by birth.

    I'm tired of this kind of column, in which Somerby fluffs himself by pointing out the ever so abstruse failings of someone else, usually someone female. He needs to clean up his act or stop blogging, in my opinion. This is just an embarrassing journey into his psyche, something that should remain private.

    1. Both Somerby and Hitchcock seem to think that an occasional loathing of women is normal. It isn't. It is pathological. Hitchcock's problems with women have been explored at length. It doesn't make him a better filmmaker. It makes him a distorted person who might perhaps have created even more brilliant films without that crack in his lens.

    2. Honest, accurate criticism of Maddow or anyone else isn't "mistreatment".

    3. @5:19 PM - what's that got to do with Robert Somerby's incessant hit pieces and personal insults that have gone on for years, most of which have nothing to do with Maddow's credibility?

      If his point is to warn liberals about her, he's beaten, killed and buried that horse.

      Spoiler: I'm not a Rachel Maddow fan by a long shot.

    4. If it's so embarrassing, why do you read it? Stop wasting your time.

    5. > “... he’s beaten, killed and buried that horse.”

      Then exhumed it for continuous flogging ever afterward, ad infinitum....

  2. Yes, we're so dumb, Bob. You know, I guess the Germans who were anti-Nazi (yes, there were a few) should have tried to understand the feelings and concerns of the Nazis and their sympathizers, right, rather than calling them mean names. How insensitive. I'm sure that would have worked out just dandy.
    (Look, aside from the neo-Nazis, I know most Trump voters aren't Nazis...but I'm making a point about calling out lies and bs when it exists, like birtherism, which is not an understandable or acceptable or tolerable viewpoint, in my mind).
    My 85-year-old mother, who voted for Obama, lost a lifelong friend because of that. Her friend called Obama the "n" word and said he was taking us down the road to hell (she screamed that, actually) and then slammed the phone down and never spoke to her again. Yeah, my mom must be the dumb, insensitive one.

    1. German Communists called the Nazis all sorts of mean names. It didn't do much good.

    2. "German Communists called the Nazis all sorts of mean names. It didn't do much good."

      I fully support this call to kill Conservatives on sight.

    3. An important way to fight both fascism and totalitarianism is to hold on to reality, to fight the distortions of truth. Calling out wrong must not stop. Hitler drove out his opponents by force and they carried news of his menace to the rest of the world, which finally woke up and opposed him. His opponents weren't strong enough to fight him from within. Now we are faced with a similar menace. Will we appease him or stand up to him?

      Hitler beat the German communists by labeling them communists so that no one would care what he did to them. When the alt-right complains that it is being suppressed, we can sort out their lies by noticing -- who has the stick in his hand?

  3. Well, yeah, insane dogmatism combined with pharisaical self-righteousness is definitely one of the most unpleasant qualities of the modern American liberals.

    That's why they rarely can be engaged in a meaningful discussion; everything for them is self-evident moral outrage, dualistic struggle of good vs. evil.

    Sad, very sad. Oh well...

    1. ...curiously, their permanent moral outrage doesn't appear to be based on any strong convictions, but rather on the stalinist-style 'party line'. For example, in a recent thread, the top level executive (Bill Clinton) is held completely blameless (and even admired) for his sexual exploits with a lowest-level subordinate. All blame is assigned to the young lady. Liberal values, really? Oh, the irony...

    2. "insane dogmatism combined with pharisaical self-righteousness is definitely one of the most unpleasant qualities of the modern American liberals."

      Well, it's more unpleasant than them being 100% correct about Conservatives being an amoral dumpsterfire, that's for sure.

  4. Bob, I hope you can review the new book "The Destruction of Hillary Clinton ".

  5. Bob Somerby: “She railed, quite hard, about the claim that Junior should never have gone to that meeting. But we couldn’t really find the place where she told us why.”

    You must have skipped right past paragraph #6:

    “But this meeting was unacceptable. It was not even in the exurbs of appropriate. Hard to believe this really requires spelling out, but apparently it does, so here goes: A candidate for president of the United States and his campaign have no business, none, trucking with an emissary of a foreign government peddling incriminating information about their opponent.

    Emphasis added, to help you see it this time.

  6. What you have highlighted is her saying Junior should not have gone, not her saying why, except in some childish "we all know that's not OK, so shame, shame on you" sense. That is what I take to be Bob's point.

    1. The Trumps made some effort to distract from the two points Ruth Marcus hit:
      (1) Natalia Veselnitskaya was there, per previous email discussion, as an emissary of a foreign government — which isn’t anywhere near covered by merely describing her as “a Russian lawyer”.
      (2) The email also specifically offered that incriminating information as help from the Russian government, Trump Jr had responded enthusiastically (quote “I love it!” end quote), so he knew that going in and was not blindsided by it — yet his initial statement as dictated by his father [over the objection of staffers who pushed for the truth] was: “It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up.” [Omitting the topic he’d gone there to discuss, the papers she left behind, and even what it was Russia wanted in exchange for permitting adoptions to resume.]

      Efforts at concealment are generally taken to show awareness of guilt.

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