“Strong Religious Beliefs”

“One of the things we’re playing with is having characters with strong religious beliefs included in some of our new shows,” Mr. Reilly added. “This would not be the premise of the show, but we could have a character who simply has this strong point of view.” NY Times, November 20, 2004

One of the most infuriating things about the political and cultural debate of the past few years is precisely this piece of bs elicited from the network executives on the subject of values on television, from an article that largely observes that even in the bible belt, people are watching dirty tv shows. Do as I say, not as I do.

All right. So, since Bush was elected with the support of the Christian Right, and they are getting all the media attention lately, and because they are a bunch of medieval cry-babies whose idea of pluralism is allowing Hindu and Moslem students to leave the classroom while the 10 Commandments are recited, let’s think about having a character on a tv show espouse “strong religious beliefs”. As if.

And if you think I’m picking on the Christians– I am a Christian.

Sounds to me that someone is buying into the preposterous evangelical myth that the media is controlled by radical liberal feminists, homosexuals, atheists, and socialists and, therefore, the Christians are entitled to some space for their views. If only!

If only there was a single character on any tv show that ever actually said anything like:

“Those fundamentalists like James Dobson and Jerry Falwell give me the creeps. How long before they start burning witches?” Or, “Why does the government allow advertising directed at children?” Or, “We’ve looked at all the evidence and questioned all the suspects, and we still have no clue as to who committed this murder. Should I beat someone up until he confesses?” Or, “He was a great soldier. He killed many people for his country.” Or, “Our kids are getting fat from eating at McDonald’s too often.”

The day we hear characters speak like that is the day I’d be delighted to hear a character say, “I think it would be wrong for you to have sex before you are legally married.”

I don’t object to values being discussed on tv. But I do object when narrow-minded right-wing bigots insist that they are the only people with “values”, as if people who voted Bush, and for his tax-cuts for the rich, have values, while those who voted for Kerry because he might actually do something to preserve the environment and protect endangered species, don’t have values.

The word “values” is being used, by conservative Christians, the way “quality” is now used by a lot of people. We want “quality television”. Which is, television with “values”. Right.


Leonard Cohen Farts at the WTC

Leonard Cohen is over 70 and he’s been living in Los Angeles for too long.

As soon as I realized that he had a song about 9/11 on his new album (Dear Heather), I knew what it would be about, and I knew what it would sound like. That is depressing.

I knew it would express this coy expectation that the old radical left would somehow approve of the attacks on the World Trade Centre, or think America deserved them in some way, and that Cohen himself was just too smart to be taken in by that. At the same time, he would modulate the stridency of the right– so he couldn’t be accused of being too conventional or, heaven forbid, reactionary. He would feign disinterest, and neutrality, coyly, to try to imbue what is fundamentally an utterly conventional response to the event with some kind of mystique:

Some people say
They hate us of old
Our women unveiled
Our slaves and our gold
I wouldn’t know
I’m just holding the fort

I’m just holding the fort, as if I am above partisan politics and hold only reasonable views on the matter. Or worse– what is “reasonable” is what I am now about. I have forgotten what is so unreasonable about the reasonable.

“I wouldn’t know”, as if, unlike everyone else, his judgment is grounded in thoughtful reflection, not knee-jerk platitudes.   This, from a man who doesn’t seem to be aware of the history of American involvement in the Middle East, the interventions, the coups sponsored by the CIA, the extraction of oil, the tolerance of authoritarian regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia and, before 1979, Iran.

So he thinks, why on earth are they mad at us?  We haven’t done anything.

And then he stops short of giving an actual opinion. He wants you to project your own feelings about the subject onto his ambiguous lines:

Did you go crazy
Or did you report
On that day

But if you knew it was coming, the mystique is gone. It’s gone. Cohen is too smart to wrap himself in the flag, but he’s got a pin on his lapel. He is too smart to resort to slogans, but comes down safely on the side of those educated but insular suburban minds of middle America like the editorial board of the New York Times or the reporters at “60 Minutes”.

I’m really quite progressive on many issues, but, after all, America really does have enemies.  Am I still hip?

Added March 2005:

I don’t mind that he plays his politics close to the vest. What I mind is that it is a weak song. “Some people say” takes you nowhere. What people? Who?  Why do they say that? And, Leonard, do you think people should go crazy, or should they report for duty? You don’t seem to care. If you don’t care, you have nothing to say. If you have nothing to say, don’t say waste the space on your album.

Neither option, of course, provides you with the option of yawning. Neither does Cohen seem even dimly aware of the fact that America is not the center of the universe, and just because 9/11 was tragedy does not mean that yawning is not an option.

He did far better on “There is a War” from New Skin for the Old Ceremony (1976):

There is a war between the left and right
A war between the black and white
A war between the odd and the even…
Why don’t you come on back to the war,
That’s right, get in it.
Why don’t you come on back to the war,
It’s just beginning.

That was a provocative song. You might or might not agree with him, but at least he came at with creative energy and inspiration.

Or how about “The Future”:

Give me crack and anal sex
Take the only tree that’s left
And stuff it up the hole in your culture

You see, it’s not his politics that have gone soft.  It’s his aesthetic.  “The Future” implies as conservative an outlook as “I’d Love to Change the World“, with, perhaps more subtlety.

By the way, like Neil Young and Bob Dylan, Cohen’s talent does not translate into film: the “official video” is terrible.   Cohen obviously had no clue of what to do in front of a camera.  I just watched it.  My God– they bleeped out “crack” and “anal sex”.  What kind of fucking regime is managing Cohen’s videos now?  (Cohen himself changed “anal sex” to “careless sex” in live performances:     Here’s the live version with the self-bastardization.)

That is unspeakably disappointing: the grocer of despair has become the checkout cashier of minor annoyance.  The background singers, by the way, in this live version don’t cut it: where’s Julie Christensen?

[2011-03] I don’t think I gave enough credit to those lyrics from “There is a War”. Is the natural state of humanity war? War with each other, because every soul seeks to possess reality, to extend the ego to every conquerable continent, emotional or otherwise? Yeah… “I wouldn’t know”.

I’m not sure where Cohen comes down on The Patriot Act, but I know lame lyrics when I hear them: “some people say” and that very tired and boring “I’m just holding the fort”. Rolling Stone Magazine seems to think he’s attained a kind of zen-like simplicity that is deeply profound. I think that if anybody else had written those lyrics, Rolling Stone would not be bending over backwards to explain why those lyrics are not merely sophomoric.

Leonard, it’s time to retire. No, wait– I can see that you already have.

An interesting cover of “There is a War”.