STARTING TOMORROW: Angry versus helpful!

MONDAY, JANUARY 30, 2023

Also, children born today: Increasingly, identity has come to rule the discourse of a rapidly shrinking world.

We aren't saying that issues related to "identity" shouldn't rule the discourse. We would seek to initiate a different type of discussion:

We humans have a strong capacity for anger. That includes anger which is perfectly justifiable. 

But when people discuss identity issues, what kinds of reactions are likely to be helpful? By way of contrast, which kinds of reactions are simply unhelpful anger—are anger all the way down?

Conflicts based on cultural identity are found all over the globe. Given the way human anger works, we're guessing that the attempt to address such issues won't always be thoroughly helpful.

For starters, what do we mean when we say that identity has come to rule a rapidly shrinking world? For one example out of many, we point you to an interesting profile in Saturday's New York Times.

It was listed as THE SATURDAY PROFILE. The headlines on the profile say this:

Teenage Rapper, Rooted in Mapuche Identity, Roars for Indigenous Rights
MC Millaray, 16, an emerging music star in Chile, uses her fierce lyrics to convey five centuries of struggles by the country’s largest Indigenous group against European colonizers.

We'll take a guess. We'll guess that most people who read that profile had never heard of the Mapuche. 

That said, the Mapuche are indeed Chile's largest Indigenous group. The leading authority on the topic offers this brief overview at the start of a lengthy discussion:

Mapuche history 

As an archaeological culture, the Mapuche people of southern Chile and Argentina have a long history which dates back to 600–500 BC. The Mapuche society underwent great transformations after Spanish contact in the mid–16th century. 

The Mapuche have been involved in identity-based conflicts dating back to Spanish colonization. Saturday's profile involved a 16-year-old girl who is focused on current struggles in her native Chile.

The Mapuche are a cultural group with a very long history. For better or worse, Chile's non-Mapuche population is a much more numerous group.

In Chile, those groups are currently engaged in a struggle. Meanwhile, in that same day's New York Times, a second news report offered this:

‘We Have to Come Here to Be Seen’: Protesters Descend on Lima

They marched through the streets of Peru’s capital, carrying signs that said “I’m not a terrorist” and waved rainbow-colored flags associated with Indigenous communities in the Andes. Many chant “murderer” at the country’s leader and sing hymns about not being afraid anymore. On Thursday, more continued to arrive, with many vowing to stay for the long fight.

In the past week, thousands of rural Peruvians have descended on Lima to join local protests calling on President Dina Boluarte to resign...

[...]

Since Ms. Boluarte took office on Dec. 7, violent protests against her government have paralyzed large swaths of southern Peru, shutting down copper and tin mines and choking off highways leading to Lima and towns in the Amazon.

There have been at least 57 deaths related to the unrest, all outside of Lima. 

[...]

The protests have been led largely by Indigenous, rural and poorer Peruvians fed up with what they portray as the country’s dysfunctional political system and entrenched discrimination. 

These events in Peru also involve long-standing conflict between different ethnic / cultural groups.

Population groups are involved in conflict all around the globe. 

Most American haf never heard of the Kurds until that group became part of the ongoing war in Iraq. Almost surely, most Americans still have never heard of the Uighurs—wouldn't recognize the name, wouldn't have any idea who the Uighurs are.

As of the early 1990s, few Americans had ever heard of the Tutsis and the Hutus. Global history teems with disputes, conflicts, wars and genocides involving such historically distinct ethnic / cultural groups.

Identity groups are in conflict all around the world. Increased communication and ease of travel in a rapidly shrinking world serve to bring the world's many different identity groups into increasing contact with each other.

In this nation, we largely focus on the cultural divisions between the population groups defined as black and white. (Our own indigenous groups receive much less attention.) The vicious killing of Tyre Nichols in Memphis has now become the (temporary) focus of that ongoing discourse.

Alas! We humans routinely have a hard time negotiating points of conflict between different "identity groups." That 16-year-old rapper in Chile gave voice to a great deal of (justifiable) anger in last Saturday's profile—but we pause this week to ask a basic question:

What kinds of behavior are likely to be helpful in such familiar discussions? By way of contrast, what kinds of reactions may give voice to (fully justifiable) anger, but may only make matters worse?

There's no sure way to answer such questions! But in this morning's New York Times, Charles Blow starts his latest column like this:

Tyre Nichols’s Death Is America’s Shame

The spectacle of a televised countdown to the showing of the video in which Tyre Nichols was savagely beaten by Memphis police officers doesn’t just theatricalize Black death; it is a damning indictment of American perversion.

It was horrific, as promised, but unfortunately not singularly so. It was instead yet another data point in a long line of videos showing the torturing of Black bodies by the police. It was more snuff porn with Black victims, in a country becoming desensitized to the violence because of its sheer volume.

On the day of his inauguration, President Donald J. Trump described his "American carnage." 

This morning, in the New York Times, Blow has a wide array of things to say about "American perversion." Also, about America's ongoing "snuff porn."

"America should be ashamed," Blow says as he continues. He offers sweeping denunciations of virtually every subgroup in the country, excluding virtually no one except perhaps himself.

Elsewhere in this very large nation, a whole lot of babies are being born today. What sorts of reactions are likely to build a batter nation for these, our newest fellow citizens?

Charles Blow's columns are routinely full of anger. A person might, with perfect sense, say that Blow's anger is almost always justified.

That said, we'll be asking a different type of question this week. It's a question for which there's no ultimate answer:

What kinds of reactions may prove to be helpful? Which kinds of reactions may not?

Tomorrow: E pluribus, insults


Tucker still can't figure it out!

SATURDAY, JANUARY 28, 2023

Also, what Paul Krugman said: Last evening, Tucker Carlson was finishing his opening segment.

In that opening segment, he had discussed the beating and the subsequent death of Tyre Nichols. Tucker had gone to the usual places, saying elites are using the incident to increase their power over people like his viewers. 

Briefly, let's be fair. On this rarest of occasions, he didn't say that the Chinese Communists were behind the whole thing!

His remarks about Memphis were crazy enough. For today, though, let's start with what Carlson said as that first segment came to a close:

CARLSON (9/27/23): So it's Friday, apparently a big day for bodycam footage. We got what we showed you from Memphis tonight. But in San Francisco, authorities also released bodycam footage from that very weird Friday night at the Pelosi household in Pacific Heights in San Francisco back in October.

We'll have that—not that we can make sense of it, but we'll have it anyway. And of course, we'll continue, for the duration of this show, to monitor the riots that appear to be unfolding across our country tonight. 

We'll be right back.

As it turned out, the riots to which Carlson referred were unfolding inside his own head. For today, we'll focus on what he said about the Pelosi bodycam footage, which he still can't make sense of.

Upon his return, Calson played that bodycam footage. After that, he tried to decipher the footage, or at least he pretended to try.

You can watch the bulk of what Carlson said simply by clicking here. He starts by saying that the 911 operator in the Pelosi incident ought to be "fired immediately." She's plainly our "dumbest 911 operator," Carlson said, without attempting to explain his assessment.

Sadly but unmistakably, it's the type of judgement Carlson constantly makes about the nation's women. Later, you'll see him affirm an account of what's seen on the bodycam tape—a poorly sourced, misleading account which NBC News aired in real time, then quickly retracted. 

Now that the bodycam footage has been released, we can see that the NBC account was grossly misleading (and flatly wrong in parts). Inevitably, Carlson—he still can't make sense of what happened that night!—said it was basically accurate.

"Shame on NBC," the excitable fellow excitedly said, complaining about the fact that NBC News had quickly disavowed its report and suspended its reporter. 

This sort of nonsense is broadcast, each night, to millions of Carlson's viewers. Elsewhere, people are exposed to vastly different factual claims and assessments.

When large societies break down into an array of such disconnected groups, it becomes very, very hard for such societies to function.

For the record, Carlson does this sort of thing on a nightly basis. He may believe the things he says. It may be that he doesn't.

Do we, within our own blue tribe, ever have any blind spots? We're going to say that we actually do. Consider something Paul Krugman wrote in his latest New York Times column.

Tucker Carlson seems to be crazy-adjacent. Quite plainly, Paul Krugman is not.

That said, Krugman's strength has always lay in his analysis of policy matters. He's less strong in the area of politics, as he showed at one point in yesterday's column. 

Krugman was discussing "rural resentment" and the role it plays as rural voters keep trending Republican. 

Much of his column made perfect sense. Eventually, though, he said this:

KRUGMAN (1/26/23): What about rural perceptions of being disrespected? Well, many people have negative views about people with different lifestyles; that’s human nature. There is, however, an unwritten rule in American politics that it’s OK for politicians to seek rural votes by insulting big cities and their residents, but it would be unforgivable for urban politicians to return the favor. “I have to go to New York City soon,” tweeted J.D. Vance during his senatorial campaign. “I have heard it’s disgusting and violent there.” Can you imagine, say, Chuck Schumer saying something similar about rural Ohio, even as a joke?

J. D. Vance seems to be transparently phony. Plainly, Paul Krugman is not.

That said, is it really hard to imagine a Democratic politician making the sort of remark which might fuel rural resentment? Not too long ago, a fairly well-known Democratic pol made this famous remark:

You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not.

And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

Eventually, every major politician will make a dumb remark. Vance makes dumb remarks on purpose. Plainly, Barack Obama does not.

That said, rural and small-town America has been looked down upon by upscale urban progressive elites for as long as such places have existed. This pattern obtains fairly widely all over the world, but also right here in this country.

Many Trump voters feel disrespected by our blue tribe's elites, even by blue tribe rubes. In many cases, they feel disrespected by our elites because they routinely have been.

Within our tribe, it tends to be the way it is with human tribes all over the globe. We find it hard to see the truth about the way our own tribe behaves. Even a person as bright and decent as Paul Krugman may fail to discern the pattern.

We wouldn't vote for major Republicans ourselves. We also wouldn't say the things we see blue tribers say, on a daily basis, about the deplorable people who do.

From comments threads on up to the top, we love to name-call these fellow citizens. Please please please don't speak to Those People, we tell our major news orgs.

Tucker Carlson lives off this dynamic. He can see that it exists. Quite often, we blues cannot.

Spoiler alert: Your lizard is going to tell you that we're just stupidly wrong in what we've said about Krugman's statement.

Your lizard is going to tell you to split tiny hairs in search of that verdict. According to an array of experts, that's the way lizards work! 


GROUPS V. GROUPS: Are the nation's critics a siloed group?

FRIDAY, JANUARY 27, 2023

E pluribus, more of the same: About a third of the way through the feature film Tár, a beautiful human moment occurs.

There are very few such human moments in this critically lauded film. As a point of personal privilege, we want to cite it here.

In the film, a very prominent (fictional) conductor, Lydia Tár, shares a 6-year-old adopted daughter with her partner or wife, Sharon Goodnow. (The film doesn't say that the daughter is adopted, but the screenplay does.)  

As Tár is driving this beautiful child to school, suddenly, and out of the blue, they recite an old nursery rhyme. In our view, it's a rare and beautiful human moment within a weirdly opaque feature film:

TÁR: Who’ll bear the pall?

PETRA: "We," said the wren. "Both the cock and the hen. We'll bear the pall."

TÁR: Who'll sing a psalm?

PETRA:  "I, said the thrush as she sat on a bush, "I'll sing a psalm."

TÁR: Who'll toll the bell?

PETRA: "I," said the bull, because I can pull. "I'll toll the bell."

Together, parent and child then finish the rhyme: "All the birds of the air fell a-sighin' and a-sobbin' when they heard the bell toll for poor Cock Robin."

Because of the beauty and the innocence of this 6-year-old child, this leaps out as a rare human moment. Much later n the film, Tár's angry partner or wife says that Tár's relationship with this little gitl is the only relationship Tár has which isn't "transactional"—which isn't devoted to propelling or maintaining Tár's high-flying music career.

As we learned through a bit of googling, Tár and Petra were reciting parts of a very old nursery rhyme, Who Killed Cock Robin? Just a guess:

This moment is layered into the movie to foreshadow the impending fall of the highly transactional classical music maestro. The word "cock" may have bene floating around in Todd Field's mind as well.

We can think of one other such human moment in this very long film. It occurs when Tár's youngish assistant, Francesca, informs Tár that Krista Taylor, a 25-year-old former colleague of theirs, has taken her own life.

Francesca, who is a human being, is plainly distraught as they discuss this event. She weeps, and she asks to be held.

Tár reacts in a different, perhaps more transactional manner. 

Instantly, Tár instructs Francesca to delete the tortured emails she has been receiving from Krista, whose name resembles Christ's. After Francesca leaves for home, Tár deletes a series of emails she herself has sent to major orchestras around the world, telling them that shouldn't hire Krista Taylor because she's too unstable.

For whatever reason, the powerful Tár has blackballed her former colleague from employment:

“I must warn you of the danger to your orchestra in hiring Ms. Taylor.” That's the way the screenplay summarizes the snippets of the various emails we see on the screen as Lydia Tár reads them, then clicks them away.

Now for a question:

Is it possible that these emails were actually sent in good faith? Is it possible that Tár really believed these representations about her young former colleague?

Almost everything is possible in this lengthy film. That said, critics have generally assumed that Tár, Francesca and Krista were all lovers in the past, and that Tár was blackballing Krista's prospects out of some sort of pique about the way things ended.

What actually happened between Tár and Krista? As with most such matters in this film, the moviegoer is never shown or told. 

That said, the viewer does see what happens on that prior occasion when Tár drives her 6-year-old daughter to school:

Tár believes that one of Petra's 6-year-old classmates has been bullying Petra. After sending Petra off to class, Tár confronts this other 6-year-old girl and aggressively threatens her in this remarkable manner:

TÁR: Hello, Johanna. I'm Petra's father. She’s told me a lot about you. I know what you’re doing to her. And if you ever do it again, do you know what I’ll do? I’ll get you. 

And if you tell any grown-ups what I just said, they won’t believe you, because I’m a grown-up. But you need to believe me: I will get you. 

Remember this Johanna, God watches all of us.

At that point, Tár walks away. Presumably, "God watches all of us" is meant to prefigure the way that deity is going to bring Tár down.

There's a lot of prefiguring in the film Tár, and a whole lot less exposition. We're never exactly allowed to know what Tar's relationship with Krista was, but it's Krista's suicide which eventually brings Tár's career crashing down.

We do get to see Tár threaten a 6-year-old girl. We also see her deceiving her partner on various occasions in various ways, and we see her trick Francesca into letting her use her laptop. 

After sending Francesca out of the room, Tár checks to see if Francesca has deleted Krista's emails, as she's been told to do. Francesca, who seems to be human, hasn't deleted the emails from her tortured friend, as the peeping Tom Tár now knows.

In short, we see Tár doing various highly unattractive things in the course of this long feature film. It's just that we're never allowed to know what actually happened between herself and Krista in the central event of the film. 

(Or even between Tár and the adoring fan, or possibly the starstruck journalist, whose red handbag Tár apparently ends up owning! The moviegoer doesn't see that episode spelled out either, assuming that he or she has even noticed that the red handbag has changed hands.)

For ourselves, we don't see the point of exploring #MeToo themes in this type of fictional setting—a setting in which moviegoers are never allowed to know what actually happened, or possibly didn't happen, in the various interpersonal matters which lie at the heart of the film.

Someone else's mileage may differ with respect to this murky exposition. Mostly, though, we disliked the feature film Tár because of the ten million ways it makes its contents inaccessible to moviegoers, starting with the unbearably long opening scenes which are littered with references to the world of classical music, references the typical rube won't care about or understand.

On first viewing, we marveled at the way this lengthy film seemed to have been constructed. It almost seemed that the film had been deliberately constructed to make its contents incomprehensible to the vast bulk of moviegoers.

People who showed up to see the film may have taken that set of cues from this puzzling film's puzzling lack of clarity. In a recent profile of the film's writer-director (Todd Field) and transcendent star (Cate Blanchett), Variety's Kate Aurthur explains the problem like this:

AURTHUR (1/5/23): In a blighted landscape for movies, where fervid audience theorizing has been mostly reserved for television shows such as “The White Lotus,” and most films are forgotten the week after their release, “Tár” is an art-house movie that actually punctured the zeitgeist. During Halloween, Lydia Tár costumes populated Instagram. “That was unexpected!” Blanchett says.

Yet “Tár” has also become emblematic of the difficult period during COVID for the movie business, and the continuing uncertainty around the financial viability of prestige films. A New York Times story from last month, headlined “Highbrow Films Aimed at Winning Oscars Are Losing Audiences,” used an image of Blanchett as Lydia, looking spooked.

[...]

That “Tár” has grossed a mere $5 million in theaters as of this writing, and is a symbol of the box office crisis for Oscar-oriented movies, was decidedly not part of the [marketing] plan. 

Variety's Aurthur is second-generation Hollywood. (Her father, the late Robert Alan Aurthur, was a substantial Hollywood screenwriter.) 

Like the New York Times before her, Aurthur described the way this "Oscar-oriented / prestige film" bombed at the box office as an offshoot of Covid, which in part it surely was. 

That said, Aurthur also makes some slightly odd claims concerning the vast sweep of Tár. It "punctured the zeitgeist," she murkily says—and she offers an odd piece of evidence in support of this claim:

During Halloween, Tár costumes populated Instagram, Aurthur says—whatever that statement might mean. 

Quickly, a guess! We'll guess that you saw no such costumes at any Halloween parties you may have attended last fall. We'll even guess that you saw no such costumes when children came to your door dressed like Rachel Maddow, or perhaps like Tucker Carlson.

Is it possible that Aurthur is part of a siloed population—a siloed subgroup within which this highbrow film really did "puncture the zeitgeist?" Beyond that, is it possible that the nation's major film critics may now constitute some such group—a subgroup which is unable to see how a film like Tár will perhaps appear to regular moviegoers? 

A subgroup which is perhaps unwilling to say what it knows for certain "transactional" reasons?

After first attempting to watch Tár ourselves, we were amazed by one aspect of the major reviews. The film is extremely hard to follow, but the major reviews didn't say so.

It's always possible that the major reviewers were able to negotiate the complexities of this film in a way which we ourselves couldn't. Aside from their genuine literacy in the world of film, they may have had a press kit in hand, a press kit which told them what they were (supposedly) seeing as the film's scenes rolled on.

Who knows? They may have had access to the screenplay, a screenplay which explains some of the points which go unexplained on the screen. In an unusual move, that screenplay was recently made available for Aurthur to publish and praise, just in time for it to be nominated for an Oscar.

Who knows? It's even possible that some film critics are involved in relationships which are somewhat "transactional." It may be that they're loath to criticize figures like Field and Blanchett, major figures they will want to interview on some future occasion.

That said, Aurthur's profile of Field and Blanchett is ripe with hints of "transactional" conduct. The keister-kissing never stops—the keister-kissing between Fields and Blanchett, to cite two examples, along with the apparent keister-kissing laid on by Aurthur herself.

In major profiles of this type, no statement by industry stars will ever be questioned or challenged. No performance of high credulity will ever be left behind.

Keister-kissing headline included, Aurthur's profile begins as shown. Tell the truth! Do you believe that this car crash actually happened?

Who Is Lydia Tár? Cate Blanchett and Todd Field Lift the Curtain on Their Oscar-Season Masterpiece

Cate Blanchett is not an actor who skims a screenplay when she’s considering it. “I read scripts very, very slowly,” she says, “but this one I read incredibly quickly...She turns to Todd Field, the writer-director of the film in question, “Tár,” and says, “And you crashed your car.”

On this chilly Sunday afternoon in mid-November, Blanchett has made the long trip to Los Angeles from Australia, where she’s been in production. She’s here to attend the Governors Awards as a formidable Oscar contender, having given one of the most rapturously reviewed performances of her career as Lydia Tár—troubled, lesbian, world-famous conductor of a major orchestra in Berlin. She’s sitting next to Field, who, it’s true, got into a bad car accident trying to get the screenplay to Blanchett. Field hadn’t made a feature since 2006’s “Little Children”—and, unbeknownst to Blanchett, had written “Tár” only for her, during a 12-week sprint in the lockdown stage of early COVID.

In September 2020, Field was driving while on the phone with Blanchett’s agent, Hylda Queally, who’d just delivered the devastating news that her client was booked for the next three years and wouldn’t be able to star in his movie. And then he crashed.

“I think because Hylda felt sad for me doing that, she agreed that if I wasn’t in too bad a physical condition, I could get home and send her the script, and she would read it,” Field says.

That “Tár” started with a car crash feels right, maybe even poetic...

Do you believe that Tár really started with some such car crash?  Granted, it's a Perfect Story—but did it really occur? 

Certainly, it may have happened, but there's no obvious way to know. There's also little way to know what's happening in major parts of Tár—until you read the major reviews, where no such problem is noted.

The kissing of keisters is general through Aurthur's profile. Todd Field kisses Blanchett's keister. Blanchett then kisses his.

Aurthur kisses both their keisters. The stars are looking for Oscar wins, and Aurthur has landed a major profile with two major industry stars. 

To our ear, another secret may start to dribble out in Aurthur's profile: this screenplay may be somewhat challenging. Ther are many such suggestions within this profile, and in the overview Aurthur provided when she recently published the screenplay

(In that overview: "On repeat viewing, Cate Blanchett’s performance as the famous conductor Lydia Tár deepens and becomes more complicated, beautiful and upsetting, as the enigmatic layers of Field’s screenplay continue to unfold for the audience.")

There are "enigmatic layers" to this Oscar-nominated screenplay? Back in Aurthur's profile of Fields and Blanchett, we're quickly told this as well:  

"For the most devoted fans of 'Tár,' it’s a puzzle, a treasure hunt, with clues so subtle you have to freeze the frame to catch them." 

Say what? You have to freeze the frame of the film to solve the puzzle, to win the treasure hunt?

Question: Can you freeze the frame of a film in a large movie theater? For people who aren't its most devoted fans, the film may be less a puzzle, more an annoying miasma. 

At any rate, Aurthur seems to be noting the difficulty of the screenplay at various points in her piece.   You can go on a treasure hunt for such hints. For today, we'll post only this:

AURTHUR: The film’s acting ensemble worked with Field on the backstories of their characters’ relationships so there would be a textured, lived-in feeling to them. Noémie Merlant plays Lydia’s beleaguered assistant, Francesca—an aspiring conductor herself, and one of her boss’s former lovers—and she says it was easy to channel her character’s relationship with Lydia: “I used my admiration for Cate.”

“She’s still in love, my character,” Merlant continues. “She needs time to realize that Lydia is not in love anymore with her.”

The film doesn’t give you easy footholds into understanding what any of those relationships are,” Blanchett says. “So we absolutely had to go into the nuances. And it’s almost like we overwrote all of the scenes in our heads—and then you cut out all the dialogue until it’s sort of like a haiku.” 

Merlant is kissing Blanchett's keister at the start of that passage. At the end, Blanchett seems to be saying that they cut out so much dialogue out of the film that a lot of the scenes are "sort of like a haiku."

For us, the film was sometimes sort of like a haiku with the middle seven syllables missing. For more literate students of film, mileage may conceivably differ—but we saw no critic who warned the rubes that this film would be hard to follow unless you could freeze its frames, making time stand still. 

We'll take a guess:

The rubes who actually went to the film produced zero "word of mouth." Their silence helped lead this film to the fall.

Tár crashed and burned at the box office. The critics adore it still, and there's no reason why they can't or shouldn't. 

But when we first tried to watch this film, we thought we were seeing a minor example of a much larger problem which is currently bringing our society down, much as Lydia Tár crashed to the earth.

Like Cock Robin himself, our society is slipsliding toward perdition. In no small measure thanks to the ideology of our own blue tribe, we're dividing ourselves, again and again, into ever smaller siloed demographic groups.

Each group has its favorite reporters and friends, and its favorite Storylines.

Each group massages logic and fact to serve itself enormous helpings of Story. Very few invidious comparisons seem to get left far behind.

In some small way, is it possible that our nation's upper-end critics are one such siloed group, operating without awareness of, or perhaps regard for, the outlooks and understanding of us the rubes? We think that was one of our reactions when we first tried to watch this film a million years ago.

E pluribus, our modern culture just keeps giving us more such groups. Our high-end critics can't seem to see how this film will appear within the zeitgeist of us the rubes. Either that or, for whatever reason, they know that they mustn't tell.

Out of pluribus, we keep building additional silos around additional subgroups. Can a large, major nation really expect to function in this way? We'll answer your question as always do: 

Go ahead—take a good look around!