Bill the Cad Strikes Again Hiebert’s
old Bill Clinton. He is said to be "deeply concerned" about the jailing
of a Canadian journalist in Malaysia. Murray Hiebert, a reporter for a Hong
Kong-based magazine published by Dow Jones, got six weeks in the pokey for contempt
of court. Now I don’t know Murray Hiebert, and I’m sure that he–unlike
Clinton–does not belong behind bars, but such are the joys of journalism
in faraway places.
conviction stemmed from an article he wrote about a woman who sued a school
after her son was kicked off the debating team. I basically agree with Hiebert,
who wrote about the growing number of suits in Malaysia (if I had my way, all
frivolous suits, which comprise 90 percent of all suits filed in the U.S., would
be punished by imprisoning the plaintiffs as well as the shyster lawyers who
encouraged them), but the judge disagreed. He ruled that the article had "scandalized
the court and was calculated to excite prejudice against the plaintiff."
Bill the Cad Strikes Again
Draft Dodger and First Perjurer was shocked that in Malaysia a judge would rule
that a reporter excited prejudice against a person. Mind you, the fact that
Bill Clinton and his catamites have spent a lifetime exciting prejudices via
the press against anyone deemed a political adversary does not seem important.
As in everything he says and does, Clinton is yet again being less than truthful.
Six weeks is hardly a lifetime, which would be the sentence for, say, a Tibetan
reporter for not toeing the party line. And I doubt very much if the Draft Dodger
would be deeply concerned about that.
Clinton’s comments, the Malaysian prime minister, Mahathir bin Mohamad,
was not pleased. He has a point. First of all, it is none of Clinton’s
business. Malaysia is a sovereign country, with a justice system of its own,
not Arkansas, where friends of Bill can be appointed judges and expected to
perform. Second of all, and this is what Mahathir homed in on, the American
habit of arresting people in other countries and bringing them to trial in America
is against international law. Clinton has not exactly put pressure on that grinning
hyena, Tony Blair, to release Gen. Pinochet, illegally held under house arrest
in Blighty. And another thing: Few Americans are remotely aware that for more
than eight months the American and British governments have been bombing the
crap out of a country that used to go by the ancient name of Mesopotamia, now
Iraq. (Alexander the Great died on the banks of the Euphrates, a river that
runs through it, pun intended.)
So I ask
you: How is it possible to be deeply concerned about a reporter being held in
contempt and jailed for six weeks in a civilized country like Malaysia, but
not be at all concerned that thousands of Iraqi children are dying every year
because Clinton and the grotesque Madeleine Albright have decided to play hardball
against innocent people for domestic purposes? (Iraqi children do not vote in
America, but reporters do influence voters.)
me answer my own question. As Amanda Craig wrote in the Sept. 12 Sunday Times,
"The late Willie Whitelaw [a Thatcher minister], was once asked what was
the difference between [a cad and a bounder]. His distinction was that a bounder
is a soldier who is sent home from the front with a letter for his commanding
officer’s wife and, finding her both lonely and beautiful, seduces her.
A cad is someone with a desk job who, when asked to deliver the same, puts on
a uniform before he visits. In other words, a bounder is a shameless opportunist
but a cad manipulates the odds."
think of someone who better fits the bill of a cad than Clinton. His double
standards are not only breathtaking, they are unique. There is no greater hypocrite,
no bigger moral coward, no slimier manipulator. He bombed and bullied the Serbs
because, unlike Indonesia, Serbia is a small and unimportant country that has
the merit of being within reach of Italian-based aircraft. The Far East is different.
There he will posture and strike an assortment of moral attitudes but do nothing
to save a single life in East Timor.
Let me remind
you what the oiliest and most dishonest man ever to sleep in the White House
said to justify the bombing of Serbia: "Whether you live in Africa, or
Central Europe, or any other place, if somebody comes after innocent civilians
and tries to kill them en masse because of their race, their ethnic background
or their religion, and it’s within our power to stop it, we will stop it."
And pigs might fly, as they say in the old country.
As I write,
the Albanian mafia is tightening its grip on Kosovo. The drug-dealing KLA–more
than 40 percent of the heroin reaching Western Europe moves through Kosovo–was
contained by the Serbs, but no longer. Effectively, there are no borders between
Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia. Kosovo is now a drug lord’s paradise. And
since the Serb defeat, innocent Serb civilians are being killed because of their
race and their religion. But there hasn’t been a peep from the body-snatcher
in the White House.
fact that I knew something of Albanian history before this year, I was appalled
at the speed at which truth became a casualty once the First Perjurer started
to play John Wayne. Sixty-two thousand Albanians marched into Greece with Mussolini’s
troops in October 1940. Their leaders asked the Italian commanding general for
the honor of crossing the Greek borders first. After we beat the utter crap
out of both the spaghetti benders and the barbarians, they hid behind the Nazis,
who attacked us in April of 1941. Under the fascist-Nazi umbrella, the Albanians
gained control of Kosovo, helped the Croatians efficiently cleanse it of 300,000
Serbs and kept the Yugoslav resistance busy, thus relieving Nazi troops for
duty in Normandy. These are the people we bombed innocent civilians for.
and Holbrooke–how nice to see two ghastly people hating each other–harbor
illusions about a multi-ethnic Kosovo, but that is not what the drug dealers
have in mind. As Nikolaos Stavrow noted this past month, since Tweedledum’s
famous victory, the Serb and Gypsy populations have been reduced 75 and 90 percent
respectively. Serbs who did not leave their ancestral homes because they had
committed no crimes and trusted NATO’s bullshit are now being told that
NATO cannot be everywhere. In the meantime, Clinton is deeply concerned about
Hiebert. If I were the unfortunate reporter, I’d ask not for amnesty from
the Malaysian judge, but for the draft Dodger not to be concerned. Is there
any greater shame than to have Bill Clinton on your side?
My Real-Life Fight Club
most influential American movie in years hit the Venice Film Festival last week,
producing intense arguments that spilled out into the street. According to a
reporter from the Telegraph, "critics from a dozen countries stood
in huddles, fiercely debating what they had just seen." The movie was Fight
Club, in which a charismatic figure played by Brad Pitt persuades Edward
Norton–the sort of Gen-X yuppie Pitt calls a "feminized man"–to
give up trying to be a good boy and, to prove his manhood, punch Pitt in the
takes off, and Fight Clubs spring up all over, in which young men fight one
another, then strangers on the street, ultimately driving urban society into
glorious anarchy. The author of the novel Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk,
apparently wrote it while living a sheltered existence cosseted by a writers
group in Portland, OR. I, on the other hand, am one of the few men to have tried
out his idea, 30 years ago, my medium not words and emotional sensitivities
but blood and pain. And I can tell him from my own experience: to fight other
men in a completely feminized world does not achieve a darned thing.
the idea is attractive. In 1969, I transferred from the all-men’s college
I attended and joined the first class of 32 boys at Bennington, until that moment
a women’s college. The 590 or so Bennington girls who surrounded us were
reputed to be bloody-minded, fiercely avant-garde and feminist, and justly proud
of their ability to be without the presence of men. Their reputation proved
to be understated. And so, to relieve our feelings of inferiority, some of us
formed the Bennington Boys’ Boxing Society. We staged informal matches
in dormitory living rooms, sometime between ourselves, sometimes against the
suitors from Harvard and Columbia who still haunted the former girls’ college.
We were weedy and unwelcome Ulysseses, ineffectively defending our 590 disgusted
So for me,
the Bennington experience is more than the background of candle-illuminated
bookshelves full of Lorca and Anais Nin, more than the feel of dried-out bits
of Bocour acrylic paint in a headful of long brown hair, more than a collage
of Swedish clogs, leotards and carefully kept journals. My Bennington was also
the acrid taste of the rubber mouthguard, the sound of leather on muscle, the
fear I felt when facing off against a hulking Harvard boy whom I had never seen
before, the feeling of shock and lightness of head when a single blow from him
dropped me to the floor.
fighting was almost a new experience for me. I grew up in a Chicago neighborhood
so dangerous that, as a white boy, to allow myself to be caught in a fight on
the street after the age of puberty would be suicidal. Instead, I learned to
negotiate, to bluff, to plead for my life. Until I went to Bennington I never
had the experience of writing a poem, using a welding torch (in sculpture),
trying to do Graham contractions or hitting a man in the face. Did our fighting
experience affect our manhood or our standing among our 590 sisters? It only
increased their contempt for us–a thing I would not have thought possible.
So I can
tell you that the antidote to wimpishness we pioneered at Bennington, and now
fully blown in Fight Club, simply will not do. Fighting for the sake
of fighting is not the point. What is wrong with man in the age of feminism
has nothing to do with whether, out of an urge to express himself, he can punch
out a fellow wimp. Instead, I’d recommend to my brothers a much more neglected
function of male identity: revenge.
A new book
by Anne Burnett on ancient Greek tragedy argues convincingly that the Greeks
found successful revenge completely admirable, representing, as she says, "order
itself in its original and vital form." Viewing a revenge tragedy onstage
was good for the audience–it sent "more vital men back into a more
vital city." Of course there were famous female revengers in classical
tragedy–Electra, Medea and that favorite of Hamlet, Hecuba. But these early
Bennington girls were exceptional. Revenge is a man’s job, and, if properly
sought, may be our only hope.
Prof. Burnett’s book had been published in time for Bernard Lewinsky to
read it 19 months ago. Think how much we could have been spared if Dr. Lewinsky
had appeared in front of the White House in January 1998 brandishing a horsewhip,
crying out for vengeance?
to overvalue violence while disapproving of–or at least misunderstanding–vengeance.
I think this is backward. And we make the further mistake of trying to fight
violence itself–in the hopeless form, for example, of writing new gun laws
to be disobeyed–rather than to avenge ourselves on those men and women
who commit violence, and to dissuade them, by being prepared to use force, from
injuring us in the first place. Simply to bloody Brad Pitt’s nose–however
tempting–gets us nowhere.
THE TIRED HEDONIST
Beware of Imitations!
Ever since Kevin Spacey made
it known a week or so ago that he is definitely heterosexual, at least one gay
friend of mine–I’ll call him "Bill," for that is his name–has
been rather glum. It seems that Bill, a boyish-looking blond lawyer, was under
the impression that Kevin Spacey had picked him up one night in the mid-80s
in an East Village club called the Boy Bar, and that the two of them had subsequently
shared a tender moment at Bill’s apartment. Now Bill knows that this "Kevin
Spacey" must have been an impostor, since the real Kevin Spacey is straight.
My friend is especially dejected at the thought that he had intimacies with
someone who was as physically unattractive as Spacey when that person was not
even a star.
of this story, I think, is that one should be very careful when dealing with
seeming celebrities. There are many impersonators out there, like the ersatz
Kevin Spacey who seduced my friend Bill, or, more recently, the fake Roberto
Benigni who was in town enjoying the hospitality of gullible Manhattanites.
If someone at a party or an opening grandly says to you, "Do you know who
I am?" it is safest to respond, "No, but if you ask the man at the
door I’m sure he could help you."
plenty of true stars walk the streets unrecognized and are treated quite rudely.
Some years ago, I spotted Linda Hunt in Balducci’s. Miss Hunt is a real
star. She won an Academy Award for her role in The Year of Living Dangerously,
in which she played a man. Obviously, she is no Julia Roberts. When she inadvertently
cut into the queue at one of Balducci’s cash registers, another woman curtly
ordered her to "getta the backa the line!" The Oscar-winner meekly
complied. It broke my heart.
as it happens, is a very good place to spot celebrities. In my years of shopping
there I used to see on a regular basis such luminaries as William Kunstler,
the radical lawyer who played himself in the Oliver Stone movie The Doors;
John Cage, the avant-garde composer (now, like Kunstler, gathered to his fathers);
Wally Shawn, the huggable little playwright and character actor; Carl Bernstein,
the intrepid investigative reporter; not to mention (because I can’t remember
her name) a cast member from the television show Punky Brewster. You
would not exactly call them "beautiful people"; indeed, they tended
to be small and somewhat misshapen. Yet it was thrilling to shop daily in their
For if one
cannot be a celebrity oneself–and frequently one cannot–the next best
thing, existentially speaking, is to live in their midst. Ordinary humans can
draw ontological power from celebrities, as the eminent Harvard philosopher
Robert Nozick has pointed out. "It is as if, because they are the subjects
of so much public attention, when they take cognizance of us, all that attention
for a moment gets turned upon us, reflected toward us," Nozick wrote in
his book The Examined Life. "We bask, however briefly, in the public
attention they have received, and feel our own reality enhanced." That
is exactly how I felt when, as a student living in Manhattan Valley, I went
out late one night to get a pack a cigarettes and discovered Dan Aykroyd and
Bill Murray buying beer at the corner bodega.
One of the
great lures of New York nightlife used to be the opportunities it afforded for
meeting celebrities. Late in the Carter administration, I think it was, the
now-famous photographer Patrick McMullan called me up one night to get me to
come to a smallish club that was fashionable then called Les Mouches. "Mick
Jagger will be there, and Peter Falk too," he promised. This seemed such
an odd juxtaposition–Columbo and Jumping Jack Flash–that I couldn’t
resist. By the time I got downtown, Jagger had already departed, and so had
Falk, but I did get to have a long chat with Gerome Ragni. Who, you ask, is
that? You philistine. Gerome Ragni wrote the lyrics to the musical Hair.
I wonder if he is still around.
In the heyday
of nightlife I made a point of going to every new club on opening night. I kept
this up for years, even after most of the celebrities whose company I sought
had withdrawn from the scene. Then one night–it was the opening, as I recall,
of a Tribeca club called AM/PM–I just couldn’t muster the will to
pull myself together and get downtown. My resolve was broken. I became more
and more casual about discharging my nightlife duties. Doormen forgot my face.
Drink tickets and other party favors were no longer discreetly offered to me.
Soon I was off the circuit completely.
the demure restlessness of middle age, I have begun to participate again in
the nocturnal pageant–cheaply, chastely and healthily. I do this by rising
at about 6 a.m. on Sunday morning and jogging west toward the Hudson. First
I jog by Twilo on 27th St. Some of the kids are already heading out of the club’s
doors and homeward; a few of the more hard-core types are just arriving. From
Twilo I run down 11th Ave., greeting the street-walkers and their colorfully
dressed pimps along the way, to the Roxy on 18th St., where the party-makers,
sweaty and with dilated pupils, are also streaming out into the dawn light.
I proceed down past 14th to the meatpacking district, whose streets pullulate
with transvestite hookers and preppie couples on the razzle.
thing is that, since these bedraggled revelers have been out all night whereas
I have had a full night’s sleep, they don’t at the moment look all
that much younger than me! Also, the testosterone levels of the males have been
almost completely depleted, whereas mine is at a peak. (Testosterone in men
runs down during the day and is replenished by slumber, hitting its high point
when you wake up.)
By 7 a.m.
I am back in my apartment with the Sunday Times, having compressed a
complete New York nightlife experience into a single hour of aerobic activity.
I recommend this regimen to all aging roués who no longer have the stamina
or the liver to keep up with their younger counterparts. The only element missing
is the one that is vulgarly called "booty," but I am working on that.
other day Gen. Wiranto mocked the worldwide concern for the fate of East Timor
by singing "Feelings." Though his gesture was crude, Wiranto did raise
an interesting point. Why are people so preoccupied with East Timor? To be sure,
Indonesian brutality has been, well, pretty brutal. But we are hardly running
short of atrocities. It is interesting to compare today’s attitudes toward
Indonesia with those of nearly 40 years ago–the last time it took over
half of an island it had no right to and proceeded to colonize it ruthlessly.
In May 1963,
after years of agitation, Indonesia took over West New Guinea (now known as
Irian Jaya) from the Dutch. Indonesia’s claims on the territory had been
based on its being the successor state to the Dutch East Indies. Since West
New Guinea had belonged to the Dutch East Indies, it must by rights become part
of Indonesia. The Papuans and Melanesians who inhabited the western part of
the island were the same Papuans and Melanesians who inhabited the eastern part
of the island–then administered by Australia. They did not want to be ruled
by Indonesia’s Javanese elite. The Dutch rejected Indonesia’s demands.
President Sukarno huffed and puffed. In 1961 he began a military campaign involving
a variety of naval actions and an air drop against the Dutch in West New Guinea.
Though the Dutch had nothing more on the island than a small garrison, they
easily defeated these feeble operations. Survivors picked up from sunken Indonesian
vessels were disdainfully returned.
But as far
as the United Nations was concerned, the wishes of the island’s population
were neither here nor there. The Dutch were European colonists and had to surrender
the territory. Significantly, one of the leading champions of Indonesia’s
cause was the United States. The Kennedy administration had made a decision
that Sukarno was just the kind of nationalist the United States needed in the
great struggle against Communism. Its dazzling intellects–Robert Kennedy,
Averell Harriman, Roger Hilsman–had concluded that so-called "mandarin"
leaders like Chiang Kai-shek, Synghman Rhee and Ngo Dinh Diem could not possibly
prevail against the Communists. Their day had come and gone. What the Third
World needed was nationalist leaders–"nation builders"–who
would run "guided democracies" (to use Sukarno’s description
of his dictatorship). Armed with these half-baked notions, Americans engineered
the downfall of South Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem, with catastrophic results.
once the United States backed Indonesia’s claims, the Dutch had little
option but to surrender. As its prime minister explained to his outraged nation:
"We were forced into it against our will and against everything we honor…
The Netherlands could not count on the support of its allies." The Dutch
were to hand over the territory to the United Nations. Indonesia would assume
responsibility for the administration under UN auspices and a plebiscite would
be held in 1969 to determine whether the local population wished to belong to
Indonesia or not. No plebiscite was ever held. Instead, Indonesia handpicked
a tame delegation of Papuan chiefs and headmen who gave a 100 percent vote in
support of remaining within Indonesia. The Indonesians proceeded to rob the
place blind and soon thousands of refugees were pouring across the border to
the eastern part of the island. The United Nations and the United States had
no problem with the outcome.
States had of course embraced the two causes of "anti-colonialism"
and "anti-Communism," long before Kennedy. These words, sanctimoniously
intoned, allowed Americans ruthlessly to pursue their economic self-interest.
U.S. companies, salivating at the prospect of winning concessions on their mineral-rich
possessions, wanted to get the Dutch out of East Asia. The U.S. decided to promote
a spurious "Indonesian" nationalism while concealing unsavory details
about its clients.
during the Second World War, Sukarno’s "Indonesian" nationalists
had actively collaborated with the Japanese. In Indochina Ho Chi Minh’s
Viet Minh movement had helped Allied efforts against the Japanese; in the Dutch
East Indies Sukarno’s men turned over any Allied agents to the Japanese
the moment they arrived in Sumatra. To get around this embarrassing detail,
wartime intelligence reports deliberately distorted the truth: Sukarno, they
declared, was "anti-Japanese at heart." He was nothing of the sort,
and owed the power he commanded at the end of the war to Japanese economic and
knew perfectly well that there was no such thing as an "Indonesian"
nation. The people who inhabited the thousands of tiny islands that comprised
the Dutch East Indies were divided by ethnicity, language and religion. The
Dutch proposed to create a series of federal states "associated" with
the Netherlands. The United States would have none of it. It preferred to see
control of this vast archipelago handed over to the gang of unrepresentative
Javanese intellectuals favored by the Japanese.
launched a guerrilla war the Dutch moved to crush it. Secretary of State Dean
Acheson threatened to end Marshall Aid to the Netherlands. All this was kept
secret. Negotiations on the setting up of NATO were in full swing. It is doubtful
if the Dutch public would have agreed to join an organization under the tutelage
of a power that was sabotaging their interests with such vigor.
government caved into American pressure and an independent Indonesia was proclaimed
in 1950. Yet armed opposition to rule from Djakarta was to go on for years.
Violent suppression of the independent republic of the South Moluccas took place
in 1949. Separatist movements in Sumatra almost toppled Sukarno’s regime
over the next decade. Interestingly, already in 1945, Sukarno was laying claim
not just to the whole of the Dutch East Indies but to territories that had never
belonged to the Dutch empire: all of New Guinea, North Borneo, Sarawak, East
Timor, even Malaya and Singapore!
invasion of East Timor in 1975 was thus only a very modest attempt at realizing
this grand ambition. As head of the Policy Planning Staff of the State Dept.,
George Kennan wrote in 1948: "Indonesia is the anchor in that chain of
islands stretching from Hokkaido to Sumatra which we should develop as a politico-economic
counter-force to Communism on the Asiatic land mass and as base areas from which…we
could with our air and sea power dominate continental East Asia and South Asia."
turned out to be nothing of the sort, always too weak economically to play the
part Kennan had written for it. But wishful thinking deluded American policy-makers
into backing Indonesia no matter what, in one case even encouraging a notion
of Sukarno that North Borneo, a part of the British Commonwealth soon to join
the nation of Malaysia, should become part of Indonesia.
East Timor in 1975, Indonesia broke a fundamental principle: former colonies
could become independent states, but only within the existing colonial borders.
No other changes were permitted. Accordingly, East Timor could not join Indonesia
or Australia, but must remain independent. Under Sukarno’s watch, Indonesia
could get away with his imperialist ambitions on account of his bogus reputation
as a great "nationalist" leader. But Suharto could not.
is, the last country in the world that today has any right to insist on the
sacrosanct nature of international borders is the United States. In organizing
the murderous onslaught on Serbia it had violated the most fundamental principle
of international law, namely, the sovereignty of states within recognized borders.
By facilitating the creation of Greater Albania it also redrew by force international
borders that it had agreed at Helsinki in 1975 could not be changed. The United
States and Indonesia are two gangster states–they should be exchanging
tips, not Sunday school sermons.
1997, the Gingrich Republicans had the brainstorm of addressing the GOP’s
burgeoning "Hispanic problem" by easing the path of Puerto Rico toward
statehood. In the end, their bill barely passed (most rank-and-file Republicans
voted against it). Then the island’s voters confounded the issue by rejecting
the statehood option in a referendum, narrowly opting for the status quo of
commonwealth. If the GOP gained any Hispanic votes from this venture, it was
hardly apparent in the 1998 elections.
was Hillary Clinton’s turn to stumble–when she backed away from her
husband’s clemency for the FALN terrorists, thus managing to alienate virtually
every Puerto Rican politician in the city. Still, there are positive signs in
the raising of these questions. As George Szamuely’s forceful piece here
last week demonstrated, non-Puerto Rican writers no longer feel that the relationship
between Puerto Rico and the U.S. is something only Puerto Ricans are allowed
to state an opinion about. (At the New York Post, I tried, without evident
success, to establish this point.) Still, among mainstream elected officials,
the debate has a long way to go.
piece aside, absent from the recent talk about terrorists, clemency and how
Puerto Rico affects American elections is any real discussion of Puerto Rico’s
status–the very issue that has preoccupied the island’s intellectual
and political leadership throughout a century of American control. Indeed, many
observers were shocked by the fact that so many Puerto Ricans rallied to support
clemency for the FALN fighters.
Ricans really rejected independence (and less than four percent voted for that
option at last year’s referendum), why did they demonstrate in the streets
of San Juan to support clemency? Why did elected officials in New York speak
with warmth and respect for men and women ready to murder the innocent in support
of their aims?
is that great injustices have been perpetrated by the other (American) side
as well, that Puerto Rican independence is not a dead cause and in principle
is anything but a ridiculous one. Until the 1940s independence was the majority
political sentiment on the island–the natural goal toward which most of
the island’s political leaders oriented themselves. During World War II
and the subsequent Cold War, Puerto Rico suddenly loomed as strategically vital
for U.S. defense planners, and independence sentiment was vigorously suppressed–thousands
of its supporters were jailed under flimsy pretexts. Simultaneously the United
States began to undercut nationalist sentiment by a kind of bribery: For submerging
aspirations for nationhood, Puerto Rico was flooded with food stamps and other
federal benefits. The rise of transfer payments from the United States exacerbated
social problems: as independence advocate Ruben Berrios Martinez writes, treat
a nation like a ghetto and it will behave like one.
for statehood, the option that has made the most progress in recent decades,
present their solution as a way of continuing the bribery deal under better
terms. Statehood’s chief spokesman, Carlos Romero Barcelo, openly touts
the option as a way for Puerto Ricans to get more welfare and other benefits
from American taxpayers. Meanwhile, in a sop to nationalist sentiment, statehood
advocates tell Puerto Ricans that becoming a state would not threaten the status
of Spanish as the island’s official language.
by the resources available to both the statehood and status quo parties, much
of Puerto Rico’s cultural and intellectual elite still remains nationalist–feeling,
as Berrios Martinez puts it, that "Puerto Rico’s heart is not American.
It is Puerto Rican." While they are hardly ready for an armed struggle
for independence, the warmth Puerto Ricans displayed for their recently released
kinsmen is evidence enough that such sentiments are widespread.
unless Puerto Rico could become a state without undergoing any cultural assimilation,
joining the Union as kind of an American Quebec, independentista passions would
surely be provoked. The fact that independence parties now fare poorly in the
ballot box may turn out to be no more relevant than the fact that IRA-linked
politicians seem to do poorly. Until it happens, Americans have no way of knowing
how difficult swallowing Puerto Rico would be, what kind of independence forces
would be stirred against it or how harsh the measures to suppress them would
have to be. But looking at the havoc that committed nationalist minorities can
wreak, from Belfast to Chechnya, why would Washington want to find out?
other small states with populations as well-educated as Puerto Rico’s have
managed well after decolonization. If Americans were to look beyond the headlines
about terror, clemency and their local elections, they would see Puerto Rico
as a vestige of their own colonialism, a place best set free in the most cooperative
and generous way possible.
My Cross to Bare
find myself in a rather awkward spot. A friend I was at Oxford with, Rupert
Wainwright, has directed a film that has just been released and any day now
he’s liable to call me up and ask me what I think of it. Ordinarily, this
wouldn’t matter. In the past I’ve usually liked what my Oxford contemporaries
have done, whether it’s books they’ve written or magazines they’ve
edited. But this time I’m anticipating the worst. You see, the film in
question is Stigmata. Houston, we have a problem.
Now I should
point out that I haven’t actually seen Stigmata. For all I know
it’s a masterpiece. But the reviews aren’t promising. "A silly,
roiling melange of special effects and overheated religious symbolism,"
sniffed The New York Times’ Stephen Holden. "Stigmata
is so bad it ultimately leaves you with the age-old question, ‘If there
is a God why would He permit a film like this to be made?’" quipped
the Citadel Broadcasting critic. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Stigmata
has had the worst reviews of any film this year–and 1999 has been a vintage
year for turkeys.
strategy is probably just to not go and see it. A few years ago another friend
of mine in the movie business, Barry Isaacson, invited me to the premier of
The Paper (1994), Ron Howard’s film about a day in the life of a
New York tabloid. Barry had shepherded it through the development process at
Universal, where he was a low-ranking executive, and he was very proud of it.
Afterward, he buttonholed me in the lobby and asked me what I thought. The awkward
silence that followed spoke volumes. Barry has gone on to have a very successful
career in the movie business–he now works at DreamWorks–but he’s
never invited me to another premiere since. Fortunately, my invitation to the
premiere of Stigmata got lost in the post.
of theater producers have the same problem when they’re invited to opening
nights. Convention obliges them to go backstage and congratulate the producer
after the show, smiles plastered to their faces, even if it’s a real stinker.
Fortunately, the fact that it’s such a well-rehearsed ritual means that
the words have very little meaning. The producer knows when his friends are
being insincere, they know he knows, and yet they go through the motions anyway
just for form’s sake: "Mahvelous, dah-ling, simply mahvelous."
They might as well be congratulating their five-year-old for having drawn a
house with a chimney.
who feel uncomfortable about lying through their teeth, though, one alternative
is to come up with the kind of comment that could be interpreted as praise but,
strictly speaking, is completely neutral. The trouble is, such ruses don’t
fool anybody–they’re the combovers of the critical lexicon. Back in
the days when I was a magazine editor, if I told a contributor his piece was
"fine" he knew it was unsalvageable. Still, there are more sophisticated
versions of "fine." I once witnessed a Vanity Fair editor tell
a writer his piece sucked in the most diplomatic way I’d ever heard. "I
liked it," she said, trying to sound as enthusiastic as possible, "but
I wanna love it." He was crushed.
In my experience,
really good critics never pull their punches. If someone asks them what they
thought of something, even if that person is a really good friend, they let
them have it, straight between the eyes. Indeed, one critic I know deliberately
avoids those friends whose work he’s recently seen or heard or read because
he knows they’ll ask him what he thinks. Of course, being sensitive artists
they soon pick up on the fact that he’s avoiding them and it doesn’t
take them long to work out why. Come to think of it, most of the critics I know
have very few friends.
In a profile
of Noel Coward, Kenneth Tynan related how in 1959 he spotted Coward at Sardi’s
on the very day The New Yorker had published a devastating review by
him of Coward’s latest play. Tynan was terrified since he knew Coward too
well not to say hello and yet not well enough to pass the incident off with
a casual remark. As soon as he saw Tynan, Coward marched straight up to him.
"Mr. T," he said tartly, "you are a cunt. Come and have dinner
if I savaged Stigmata in print, I don’t think Rupert Wainwright
would behave with quite as much class. One of the reasons I suspect it’s
bad–apart from the terrible reviews–is that I was in a play written
by Rupert at Oxford. Called All That Glisters, it concerned the efforts
of a celebrated alchemist to win the favor of a king. The problem was, the alchemist
couldn’t turn ordinary metal into gold. He was a fake, a charlatan, and
the play followed his increasingly desperate efforts to avoid detection. I’ve
always suspected that there was a strong autobiographical streak running through
All That Glisters, not least because it completely sucked.
As you might
have guessed by now, Rupert isn’t that close a friend of mine. I haven’t
seen his previous movies–Blank Check (1994) and The Sadness of
Sex (1995)–either. With any luck he won’t call, but if he does
I think I’ll just tell him Stigmata was fine.
THE SINGULAR EYE
history is becoming an increasingly odd business, especially as we draw closer
to the present. Take the case of postmodernism if you will. The first lecture
I was asked to give 15 years ago on what was then a very recent phenomenon was
to medical students. Out of respect for their calling I entitled my talk "No
Post-Modernism without a Post-Mortem." Two of the questions my title prompted
me to ask were (a) if modernism were now apparently dead, what had been its
morbid symptoms? and (b) who precisely had signed its death certificate or ordered
No one has
answered either question satisfactorily to this day. My objective in raising
these matters was that I could foresee how easily modernism could merge seamlessly
into so-called postmodernism and thus continue effectively under another name.
What would be avoided by this ruse was the hope of our ever learning anything
from modernism’s more obvious or fatal flaws. Probably the most damaging
of these was the way modernism had effectively severed all links with the premodern
past. To seem brave and new, modernist artists had to exemplify both qualities–initially,
at least. However, once the battle for fashionable opinion had been won–which
took rather less time than many now think–novelty on its own would generally
days of so-called late modernism were typified by an increasingly desperate
search for even the emptiest appearances of innovation. Artists were seemingly
forced to such extremes because modernist codes of practice decreed that no
refreshment or revitalization could be sought from premodern sources. Happily
for the first so-called postmodernists, who began to appear in public some 20
years ago, none felt bound by any such scruples. Their new orthodoxy in art
and architecture held that it was perfectly permissible to plunder the past
for its treasures, providing only that the exercise was conducted in a spirit
of irony. It was still not allowed to admire the achievements of the premodern
past simply for what they were, since we still liked to believe we knew better
in everything. Even to think that the human race may have lost a great deal
through the abandonment of desirable premodern artistic practices meant one
might present oneself for labeling as a possible reactionary. In a world ruled
by radical rhetoric this was tantamount to an admission of consanguinity with
General Franco. It was a chance not too many were willing to take.
So is postmodernism
really a cunning continuation of the basic codes of modernism by another name?
Those who believe so point out that no hard-line modernists who occupied positions
of artistic influence lost any of their power in the new, postmodernist climate.
As token of a philosophical bond, new, so-called postmodernists felt just as
free to pour scorn on areas such as revivalist architecture as their hard-line
modernist counterparts had been.
the greatest single difference ushered in with postmodernism was not the querying
of modernist or pre-modernist cultures but the questioning of the validity of
any kind of genuine culture at all. Postmodernism soon gathered under its voluminous
skirts disparate strands that had their origins in the events of the late 60s:
deconstruction, feminism, postcolonialism, multiculturalism, gender issues,
political correctness and so forth. A range of new adages and ideologies became
the rage just when we might have learned something useful from a call to order
following the collapse of mainstream modernism.
new orthodoxies was a widely promoted notion that skills were elitist and undemocratic
and that henceforward everyone was an artist. As for esthetics, this was simply
a branch of exclusivist Western snobbery invented for their own purposes by
the white men of dominant cultures. Learned art historians learned rather to
their surprise that art history had thrown up more than its fair share of female
old masters, although we weren’t allowed to know about these because of
history, of which Stalin had been such an enthusiast, suddenly became the new
order in the universities of the Western world. Fogeyish resisters who might
have been sent to gulags in true revisionist regimes were simply consigned to
academic oblivion instead. Intellectuals who had fought against the sillier
excesses of late modernist practice suddenly found themselves grappling with
a postmodern Hydra. In many Western countries no idea could seemingly be too
silly or destructive for the Red Guards of the new radicalism. Following effective
destruction of the formal language of art, educational radicals turned their
assault on the teaching of structured or grammatical English, which they claimed
empowered those who mastered its intricacies and disadvantaged all who could
was the lasting effect of this purge, delivered in the name of greater democracy,
other than to produce a generation unable to write lucidly or to spell? If you
are 40 now you will probably recognize your age group. In fact, those disadvantaged
already by birth or circumstances were soon disadvantaged still further, since
children from so-called bourgeois homes might hope for remedial instruction
in English either from their parents or from specially employed tutors. On the
other hand, poor kids, often from immigrant families, soon discovered what a
favor their radical teachers had done them when they made their first, unsuccessful
applications even for rotten jobs.
artistic and educational creeds have come uncomfortably close to madness. Dare
we hope one day that post-postmodernism may bring us some relief?