Admired Work

And now my emphasis added. (Emphasis mine.)

Maybe it’s because I’ve just journeyed through the funhouse of where suggesting that the Constitution and the original intent of its authors might not always yield moral perfection is quickly labeled a trashing of the document and all that is American, but I’m beginning to look upon the internet as a place where  any thought so conceived as even a paragraph can not long endure.  It certainly can’t be tweeted.

I awoke this morning and chased the coffee with this:

David Simon, the creator of The Wire and the author of two of the best pieces of book-length journalism ever written (Homicide and The Corner), really liked 12 Years a Slave. I mean, he really liked it. He liked it so much, in fact, that he thinks it’s literally beyond criticism. Wrote Simon:

 [O]nly two kinds of folk will emerge from theaters [after seeing 12 Years a Slave].

The first will be at last awakened to the actual and grevious horror in which the black experience in America begins.  Efforts to achieve this in the past — The “Roots” miniseries on television, or a few halting and veiled attempts in feature films to imply the desperation of terrorized human chattel — came down the road a piece, but none dared the entire emotional journey.  For ordinary Americans willing to confront our history without equivocation and vague allusion, this film will prove a humanizing and liberating journey. This much truth can grow an honest soul.

And for those still desperate to mitigate our national reality at every possible cost, this film will be an affront.  It is not intelligently assailable by anyone. [Emphasis mine]

He then goes on to talk, at some length, about the intellectually dishonest people who would criticize this film because dead white men and the Constitution, or some such.

Allow me to be blunt: Simon’s attitude here is anti-art and anti-discourse-of-art. When one says that a work of art “is not intelligently assailable by anyone,” he is not considering the work of art as a work of art but as a means to an end. Because he views 12 Years a Slave as useful to his political agenda, David Simon has labeled dissenting discourse verboeten. In doing so he has stripped 12 Years a Slave of its status as art and rendered it little more than a bloody shirt to be waved in promotion of a cause.

Look, 12 Years a Slave is a powerful movie. I think very few would deny that. (I certainly didn’t.) But it is equally undeniable a flawed film, perhaps fatally so. I’m byno means alone in this assessment. The whole point of arts criticism is to hash out what works and what doesn’t, to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of a given work. Simply declaring criticism of a work off limits because it advances your political program is, well, fascist.

“Utility is a treacherous standard in art,” Stanley Kauffmann wrote about On the Beach in 1959.”The film must stand or fall by its effect on the viewer, whether he is American or Russian or Tasmanian; and that effect, as detailed above, is seriously qualified by mediocrities of writing, acting, and direction.”

It’s probably my favorite quote from Kauffmann (as you may have guessed, since I’ve quoted it previously). When one judges art solely by its usefulness to the cause—be it averting nuclear war or scoring cheap points against your ideological enemies—you are effectively rejecting aesthetic standards in favor of some gauzy notion of political import. It is a standard that substitutes usefulness for artfulness. It is, at heart, philistinic.

I imagine that Simon disagrees with Kauffmann’s line, and not just because of his essay on 12 Years a Slave. Anyone who doubts that he favors utility above artistry need only watch the fifth season of The Wire, which was more interested in angry score-settling than interesting plot developments. It is distressing to see someone as good as Simon devolve into little more than a politically motivated hack. But, perhaps, not surprising.

It is distressing indeed.  I don’t want to be a fascist.  Or a philistine.  Not before I’ve had breakfast at any rate.
So for starters, why don’t I easily and handily agree with Mr. Kauffman’s insight in its entirety.  And why don’t we we go back to the original statement and leave it in its original context, following as it does a discussion not about film-making or aesthetics, but exactly this:  What does this film make Americans confront about Southern slavery, as per the actuality of Southern slavery.  That, and that alone, was truly the sum and topic of my essay.
I work in the entertainment industry and I am indeed political.  And knowing what I know about how that industry operates and what it values, and knowing how little of American slavery has been addressed by that industry, I am indeed elated — and a little bit astonished — that this film exists, that Americans will walk into a theater and see so much of our undiscovered and unexamined social history depicted.  And what I find unassailable is not the film as film — and eschewing the palate of a film critic is not being anti-art or fascistic, I don’t think, but merely a tacit reply.  No, what I  argue is unassailable is the context and accuracy of what Americans, if they view the film, will see for the first time in a depiction of slavery.  I confess that can’t I muster enough interest in film criticism, at least not to the point of reviewing the art of film.  But I am very interested in narrative, history, and the issue of race in America.  And, again, I am astonished and proud that this film exists.  Utility is indeed a poor standard in art, but it’s certainly germaine to politics or sociology, and even to the journalistic aspects of non-fiction narrative.  The “why” of a story might not be any defense of the story’s execution, but it’s certainly worth discussing or even admiring.  Hence, my essay.
Following directly as it does all of my language about this specific achievement — and directly following a sentence that spoke of those Americans “still desperate to mitigate our national reality” or, in other words, avoid films made that address the true nature of slavery — I naively assumed the “unassailable” adjective would be applied to that text.  It never occurred to me that the phrase would rise beyond its paragraph to be championed as an argument against all debate or art criticism.  Yet, I now see that it has been bolded, with (emphasis added), to suggest that I actually believe that no one can critique this film, or that because the film suits my politics I have prohibited any such critique, and that I am an enemy of art.  Oh dear.
Well, I can readily agree that as film criticism, a claim that an opinion is not intelligently assailable is indeed obnoxious and, well, silly.  But as political discourse — and the paragraph of origin was about how Americans are willing to view slavery in any context — the claim is simply red meat, and it baits the hook nicely, I think.  And yet the sentence now travels on its own, apparently, through the wilds of the internet — a standing threat to any living friend of art.
As remedy, let me suggest that we de-bold the remark and leave it in the singular context of its defense of the filmic depiction of human bondage in 12 Years A Slave being the most honest, historically credible and disturbing that the entertainment industry has yet managed.  I stand by that entirely.  I mean that entirely.  And to that end, let me offer the following clause, to be appended to my original phrase in the event it is to travel further beyond its paragraph:  “As a depiction of  American slavery in all of its dehumanizing reality, it is not intelligently assailable by anyone…”
 Prefaced by that phrase, I’m willing to let that sentence gambol freely, independent of the context in which it was originally launched.  And I’m further willing to stand on my declaration that as a rare, honest and powerful depiction of slavery, the film is unassailable, knowing full well that the declaration is of course an intended invitation for others to attempt to assail it, if they can.  In fact, this has been going on in the comments section below the blogpost for weeks now, with my encouragement.  Yes, I am very much interested in why it has taken Americans so long to achieve a fundamental and graphic film account of slavery, and how Americans will now respond to such a dynamic.  And yes, I think there are two kinds of viewers:  Those who will become more honest about what slavery was and why it matters in American political discourse, and those who will want to mitigate the reality.  Such a division of viewers is of course irrelevant to any other parsing of those who think the film great, or good, or poor.  But indeed, the division I spoke of is evident in the blog comments, where, honestly, I am still waiting for someone to intelligently assail the historical depictions in the film.
As to its execution or its art, I am entirely aware that the film is open to all debate — as all art is.  No one agrees on anything when it comes to art, ever.  For example, I thought the fifth season of The Wire was just fine and took the tale where it had to go in its theme. All that said — and acknowledging it to be off-point from my essay and certainly from the “unassailable” remark  — I did think 12 Years was fine storytelling, too.  But, yes, your mileage can certainly vary.


  • Without question 12 Years added to the visualization of slavery in the American South. The hardship of work on a plantation was more clearly represented than previously. The possibility of difference among masters was elaborated, highlighting outright sadism. A small plantation with just a few cabins was a new sight for me, as was that of free, middle-class black families in the North, going about their business, as well as the horror of abductions into slavery.
    The basis of the film was, of course, an actual narrative. Evidently some weren’t up for the ride.

    Glad to have Treme back, by the way: friends were missed. Liked the lone trumpeter in the police car headlights.

    • Kermit Ruffins, no mere trumpeter. NO icon.

      But thanks. It is nice to be able to write a coda for that world and its characters.

      • Treme season 3 also finally hit DVD to coincide with the fourth season, so it’s nice to have that out there as well.

        • Kermit is the man! Been a fan since Rebirth. I hope he’s able to keep both the Speakeasy and Mother In-
          law afloat.

      • I sat in with Kermit one night at Vaughan’s. It was terrifying because there was jazz royalty in the room, but how many drummers can say that?

        Also, someone at Breitbart called you a fascist. That’s a blue ribbon dose of irony, right there.

  • Dear David,

    I’m very happy to see Treme season 3 on iTunes and have just bought that in HD. Would you guys be releasing a “Music From …” album for season 3 as you did for season 1 & 2?


    • Rounder Records has backed out of plans for a season three soundtrack. Looking for an alternative now, I think.

  • When that follow up article initially appeared on “” I feared more people would take it seriously since one could easily find it just by viewing the “latest news” under your name. But, it’s plainly obvious that no one cares about it anymore. I imagine you got used to people trying to make you look bad through such means a long time ago eh Mr. Simon?

  • Not that you need to hear it from a random dude, but the fifth season of The Wire is actually one of my favorite seasons. I only learned of people’s disappointment with that particular season recently, and it still shocks me. It is “unassailably good.” That season features, without a doubt, the most accurate depiction of a newsroom I have ever seen in film or TV. And you and your writers managed to resolve each character’s fate in an elegant way, while honoring the show’s existentialist themes. But like I said, you don’t need to hear that from me.

    • I think season 5 benefits greatly from re-watching, as does every season of the show — it’s too dense to catch everything the first time around (I didn’t catch Johnny Fifty under the underpass until a third viewing). I also think it suffers in some viewer’s minds by comparison with season 4, b/c come on, it would take the most heartless person on earth not to love or at least be able to relate to those kids, whereas not everyone can easily relate to journalists.

      Dramatizing something as internal as the life and process of writers for a film or TV show is terribly difficult, and many screenwriters have talked about it — I forget who said it’s even harder since the loss of the typewriter, since you can’t even show people ripping the page out of the roller and balling it up in frustration anymore. But I’d say THE WIRE did it as well as anybody.

      (I still don’t completely buy that Lester Freamon would have gone along with McNulty’s scheme, though, sorry, Mr. Simon.)

      • Unless I’m mistaken, Lester originally wound up in the Pawn Shop because he charged a political case against the wishes of his superiors. He also dug up campaign finance reports on Baltimore politicians long before anyone figured out his motivations. Didn’t seem strange to me that he would take drastic steps to bring in a big case (at least with his back against the wall and retirement ahead of him).

        • Drastic, sure. Unethical? I dunno. My best interpretation is that by the time he found out about it, the deed was already done, so it was either bust McNulty and scotch the entire case or try to ride it out and make something good come out of it.

          But hey, it’s a minor quibble. I like the season. I still think it’s funny Mr. Meyers felt it was “score settling”, since if anything, in my opinion, it’s practically a love letter to a newspaper and a standard of journalism that no longer exists.

  • Well, I’ll bite on this one. I actually don’t agree with Kauffman. In my opinion, utility is as important as aesthetics in art, and is certainly a powerful aspect — if not THE most powerful aspect — of its effect on the viewer. Can anyone say they aren’t affected more by art that has, in their opinion, an important message? (And if so, why are they on this site instead of, I don’t know, Michael Bay’s blog?)

    If aesthetics were the be-all end-all, why would anyone ever watch a microbudget indie instead of a multi-million dollar, technically perfect studio blockbuster?

    It’s this logic which holds BIRTH OF A NATION and the films of Leni Riefenstahl as masterworks worth preserving and studying for the ages. I’d just as soon they be consigned to the trash heap.

    I’m reminded of an exhange I’ve always loved, from the film IMMORTAL BELOVED —

    Beethoven: “Music is a dreadful thing. What is it? I don’t understand it. What does it mean?”

    Anton Schindler: [impatient, not realizing he’s speaking to the man that created the music he’s entranced by] “It exalts the soul.”

    Beethoven: “Utter nonsense! If you hear a marching band, is your soul exalted? No, you march. If you hear a waltz, you dance. If you hear a mass, you take communion. It is the power of music to carry one directly into the mental state of the composer.”

    Always thought that summed it up nicely. Art isn’t merely aesthetics — that’s entertainment. Candy for the eyes and ears. Art is a form of communication. And if it’s not saying anything, what good is it?

    P.s. It’s a little silly to claim that season five of THE WIRE had no interesting plot developments when it featured the plot twist that’s surely most controversial among viewers (McNulty!) along with a number of others that were shocking (Omar! Slim Charles and Cheese!). Also, I’m not sure how much score settling was acheived, it’s not like Clark Johnson’s character kicked over his desk all “deuces, rubes!” and scored himself an HBO deal while the Sun disintegrated into a provincial rag featuring such hard hitting front page headlines as “Black-Eyed Susan Recipes for Preakness!” before ultimately being bought out by the Koch brothers and turned into a nice soft piece of toilet paper for libertarians to wipe their butts with.

    • I dunno. I’ve been as overcome looking at a Robert Motherwell painting as I was the first time I saw “Paths of Glory.” The former has no utility beyond filling a wall, the later was as important a political film as one might ever hope to watch. Hard to credit utility as being any kind of metric for art.

      Political art, however, does create an additional framework for discussing it — an argument beyond the argument, so to speak. And, of course, as you point out, merely because political art is effective, or artful, doesn’t make it admirable. Triumph of the Will and all of that.

      • I should clarify more — I’m not saying that pure meaningless entertainment isn’t enjoyable (I like a catchy pop song as much as anybody), or that all art needs to have a righteous political message to be valid. Just that the intentions and message of the creator, the subject matter, and the political and social contexts the piece is being presented in, are all important to consider in understanding the art.

        I’ll try to demonstrate — in the “fatally flawed” link above, the reviewer chastises silly liberals (I presume that’s the implication) for condemning the violence of PASSION OF THE CHRIST while lauding 12 YEARS A SLAVE. Well, PASSION is considered torture porn by many reviewers because it is absolutely intended as such. It’s simply a filmed version of a passion play, a Christian theatrical tradition in which the violence of the story is pretty much the entire point, and such pieces have historically been used to manipulate the audience’s emotions and incite hatred against Jews. Being that it’s based upon an event for which there is no contemporary historical evidence (as opposed to 12 YEARS, which is based on a first-person verified memoir), the level of violence is entirely the choice of the director, rather than a representation of reality. If I recall, it also rather ridiculously features a Catholic Anglo-Saxon actor as good old Yeshua ben Miriam, and an almost entirely Italian cast playing the remaining Jewish characters. I suppose I shouldn’t even mention that Mel Gibson is a notorious anti-Semite whose father is the head of a radical Holocaust-denying cult, and is given to violence in his personal life, lest I bring on the “separate the art from the artist!” brigade, but I’m sorry, it’s important in understanding the intention of this work.

        The commentator is saying that none of this should be considered in a review. I say it has to be, or you miss the entire point of what a piece is trying to say.

        Likewise, let’s consider the content of 12 YEARS. The “fatally flawed” link above lists two basic complaints: the fact that Brad Pitt is a familiar face, and that Solomon Northup doesn’t “do anything” during his time in captivity other than survive (how unimpressive! I’m sure the reviewer would have managed to write five novels and learned Chinese during that time). Well, if you’re not considering the social context or subject matter of the work, those are valid complaints. I’m sorry the reviewer found the depiction of slavery monotonous — I’m pretty sure the slaves found it monotonous too, and inaction was an inherent part of their survival. Those slaves that did take action tended not to live to tell the tale. If the reviewer is saying he’d like to see a big-budget sympathetic Hollywood movie about Nat Turner, I totally agree, but I’m not holding my breath for the funding to come through.

        I’m also sorry that in today’s sociopolitical climate, a film like this needs to have an internationally bankable white star in a small role in order to promote the film and secure funding, but surely the fact that an actor has appeared in more than one role in his career cannot be considered a FATAL flaw, or pretty much every movie out there is fatally flawed.

        (I didn’t click through the links, admittedly, but being fair, I also tried the “in this assessment” one and while it had some perfectly valid points — anyone is free to simply not like this movie or the dialogue and performances therein — I burst out laughing when I got to the part about how depicting white slaveowners as the “evil Other” alienates them from the viewer. Oh, woe is me! Spare me from the martyrdom of white male reviewers! Welcome to the experience of women or people of color watching almost any Hollywood movie in, I don’t know, the last hundred years or so.)

        • Didn’t click through ALL the links, that is. I made a valiant effort, but gave up after that one. Nobody said these guys weren’t entitled to dislike the movie, so I don’t know why half of their reviews consist of complaining about being constrained by liberal white guilt or whatever.

  • Your first mistake was going to… Although it’s somewhat humbling to know someone of your caliber still succumbs to the trolls from time to time.

    Something is still very amusing about a columnist from Breitbart trying to call you anti-art. Any blogosphere stand-off based on that premise is guaranteeing shit to be funny.

    Now they’re calling you a “classic liberal bully,” while the liberals call you a cryptofascist while the libertarians call you a socialist. Admitting that I think you’ve been somewhat short-sighted on what has come to light from the NSA, I must also admit that being vehemently opposed by every narrow-minded institution of political thought is what makes you, maybe more-so than being the creator of The Wire and Generation Kill and The Corner, an iconoclast.

    Also fuck that guy anyways for saying the fifth season of The Wire sucked. Maybe in the future after you’ve written enough of these prose rebuttals you can simply retort, “Eat a dick.”

    • Actually, I never went to Brietbart. Life is too short. No, the author of the screed posted it here twice in repetition, and I read it once, which was more than enough. His original posts are still up — strange because his follow-up claims that his arguments were censored here. Oh wait, his cite of that second post is also up here as well. I need to work on my censoring skills, apparently.

      What I would not do is bother to waste more words debating such tripe until it was disengaged from ad hominem and offered in place of the original screed. Or post his additional arguments without him first removing the ad hominem and coming correct to this small cyberpatch. And this he could not do, assuring me in an ensuing post that I was full of shit. At which point, well, thanks for playing.

  • Am I alone in wishing this were audible? I am referring to “the hunt for good argument” in general , or good discussion at least. I anxiously await every Bill Moyers program and would gladly pay per conversation. It’s lovely this forum, Mr. Simon , your willingness to engage whoever may find, or rile or inspire you, I truly appreciate this. But, I seriously ask, as someone who loves (needs) voice, is also visually excited, why are there not more programs devoted to intelligent, thought provoking conversation? I wish continued…. Thanks Mr. Simon

  • All day, every day, and quite loudly, people on the Internet are wrong, about what other people write and about every other damnfool thing you can think of. In 25 years of scattering cyberdust, dating to CompuServe before the Internet was a real thing for most people, I’ve been misquoted, taken out of context and hit by a Red Army of 80-pound straw men.

    I relish their enmity, but even I need something more or less untainted from time to time, which is why I come here. Even when I disagree with you, I don’t wonder where in the pluperfect hell you got THAT idea from. It’s usually pretty clear. Thanks for that.

  • Look, I don’t know much about what’s ad hominem this or what’s assailable that…..i’m just a gangsta I suppose *avon voice*. Regardless, I see this for what it is. This debate is like a microcosm of 21st century America. You have a number of groups. No one group forms a majority and even though all the groups have vastly most things in common, we tend to view ourselves and others through the dominant prism of what makes us different (keeping in tune with our historical lineages). But we are all in the 21st century, so in bad times we are able to empathize, in good times we are able to merge into and break new common ground, but in regular common times we are able to foster an understanding and level of tolerance that enables us at bare minimum to proceed with life. Lying and mischaracterizations of others is not just frowned upon, but it isn’t considered to be useful amongst the coexistence of those groups.

    But you always have one group that just don’t give two fucks about anything. You see, this group used to be the big dogs. When they held majorities and controlled everything, whether in dark animalistic times where people lived with less understanding of human nature and its consequences, or up to the times of corporate control, they did what the fuck they wanted. It was never in their nature to acknowledged, apologize, atone and amend their mistakes. Oh hell no. Double down, build up a wall, and don’t let anyone in who challenges the world as they have it and who controls it based on gender race creed or class….and just as important, don’t let anyone out of that wall even for the sake of understanding and a wider knowledge of those who aren’t like them. Oh, ya’ll fucked up.

    As a rapper once stated, “we don’t believe you/you need more people!”. We see your relevance is in scaring people with misinformation that embolden our differences to overshadow our commonality. Your ideas, or lack thereof, don’t get our attention, rather it is your volume, tone and boldness in your lies that even you don’t believe in. You spoiled you know whats: its not cute. Its cute when my 5 year old niece fakes sick so she can get my brother to stay home with her cause she just want to spend more time with her dad. But even she apologies and admits what she did because that’s what little girls do when they are raised right.

    Either the mofo who wrote that shit about Mr Simon did it exclusively for attention for which he cant get on the merits of his work alone–derived from being integral–or he and those he represents are fearful that they live mentally and emotionally in a world that no longer exists where they are unable to progress and move on. The virility of that world would have long ago declined if that world didn’t have such an easy profitable game plan. But as politically where we had a president who was on the news everyday for 4 years with bad economic news and hateful campaigns about his birthplace and the true nature of his political philosophy YET he still won, I encourage the Breitbart brigade to be weary of becoming the social equivalent of being non-winnable; even if you are right, which you aren’t in this case, how do you turn winning an argument into a righteous solution for the betterment of all involved.

    Lastly, on a quick sidebar with the movie. I feel it worth adding to the discussion that the movie debunks any person who choose to celebrate the south, be it in it’s flag or a romanticized idea of its values. We celebrate July 4th not because its a day of sunshine, but because something happened on that day–American Independence–is exclusive to that day only. The only thing exclusive to antebellum south is slavery and all the evil it entails and spawns. Being polite and welcoming and having family values existed before and became better after that evil time period.

    • Tellingly, we made Thanksgiving a holiday to give thanks in November 1864 that The South was on its last legs, with Lee surrounded in the trenches around Petersburg, and that the union was going to survive our civil war. But in the years after Appomattox, when it became clear that this national day of thanksgiving would not celebrated below the Mason-Dixon Line, we ran around making up some horseshit about Puritans and Squanto and corn seeds and a big feast in Seventeeth Century Massachusetts. That was benign enough an act of national amensia to warrant a celebration.

  • Surprising reaction from Breitbart, a site propped up by the blood-curdling shrieks of white men terrified by the idea that any part, however small, of their power structure is being chipped away at. Absolute shock.

  • What’s truly distressing is the reviews the author cites don’t really critique the film as a film but they attack the historical accuracy of the film, “Brutality, violence and misery get confused with history”(The history of slavery was brutal violent and miserable), “It proves the ahistorical ignorance of this era that 12 Years a Slave’s constant misery is excused as an acceptable version of the slave experience”,(The slave experience was constant misery) “depicting the slavers as these cartoonish monsters”( Mr. Burns is a cartnoonish monster, Edwin Epps was a real person) One of the reviewers refers to Solomon’s memoirs as a “claim”. Even if they do recognize the truth of this story, there seems to be an effort to suggest that what happened to him was rare and extreme. And to compare this film to torture porn is either dishonest or ignorant. The movies these reviewers compare 12 Years a Slave to are all fictional horrors. The story happened and I think to tell it any other way would be disrespectful. The only real film criticism these reviewers have is that Brad Pitt is in the film which upsets them for some reason. But there is hope if Richard Cohen can come away from the film realizing that “slavery was not a benign institution in which mostly benevolent whites owned innocent and grateful blacks” ( Though I have no idea how an educated person i the 21st century could still believe this)

    • If you call can call that living, Mr. Meyers. But hey, if your ambition is to arrive at a website, immediately shit the bed with ad hominem, then have your intellectual effort held in low regard by a host of sentient beings, then I suppose you are, indeed, living large in these parts. A regular pimp daddy, to be sure.

      • I think one of the fundamental problems in these type of arguments is that folks like Mr. Meyers don’t understand the difference between attacking the person vs. the person’s argument. And the relative anonymity offered on comments section of Brietbart, MSNBC, CNN or Fox News encourages this type of name calling, so it has become second nature.
        I also think in their reasoning attacking a persons argument is attacking their thinking and thus by extension or inference attacking the person themselves. So calling you a “human democratic centipede” or a “piece of shit” is justified I agree with you on most issues so I can clearly see the difference between attacking the person vs. the person’s argument when someone name calls like he did.
        I suppose folks on the other side of this (or any debate) where they are opposed to my point of view draw the conclusions they want to and agree with Mr. Meyers. And thus feel justified in using ad hominem (to use one of your favorite phrases). Not that I agree or that its justified but that’s what I think happens in such cases.

        • Isn’t it amazing? It’s playground stuff. I swear, my 11 year old son behaves better, even during a heated recess basketball game.

    • In other words: “Yes. I was just trolling you the whole time.”

      For a man currently facing fraud charges (on an unrelated matter) you sure had a long way down to go yet.

  • This is where I am stymied: “…undiscovered and unexamined social history depicted.” Now, even those who slept through high school history know that “Gone With the Wind,” or, say, “Birth of a Nation” is the equivalent of OxiClean on nitrate as far as true history goes.

    Also, anyone who watched the miniseries “Roots,” and glanced but once at one photo in one history book of the one picture of that savagely beaten slave with his back looking like an ebony board with scores of hash-tags in 3-D, would not need the television drama to, “…imply the desperation of terrorized human chattel.” I think the average American can draw a pretty close comparison in their mind to the startling reality of “12 Years A Slave.” What “12 Years a Slave” did, in my opinion, is what “Saving Private Ryan” did for “The Longest Day.” It did what film does best. It did indeed “dared the entire emotional journey.”

    But, at no point watching “12 Years a Slave” did I think, intellectually, “Oh, that’s how it was?” My mind was well accustomed to this horror from the myriad of books I read, and the smattering of films like “Glory,” “Armistad,” or “Django Unchained.” The later films do not truly capture the vile inhumanity in such narrative form as effectively as “12 Years A Slave,” but it didn’t sugar coat it either. Perhaps I read too much American history, but if I watched “Song of the South,” I could still conjure up an accurate account of the barbaric horrors of human bondage in our Southern states.

    I think, the horror and terror in “Pyscho” (in which it’s most violent scene could be shown on Saturday mornings, today), is infinitely more terrifying than, say, “SAW XVII.” I think the rather bloodless “The Longest Day” was an infinitely better film explaining D-Day than “Saving Private Ryan,” and the “The Passion,” as a film, was not as good at capturing the narrative of Christ as “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” But Ryan, and Passion gave us a visceral reality. I assume, perhaps naively, that Americans are well-enoughed versed in their history that “12 Years a Slave” serves more to illustrate a reality seamlessly woven into a great film, than some “Ah-hah, I had no idea,” moment.

    So, I guess if someone stupidly chose to eschew books, than I’d be fine with “The Longest Day,” and “Saving Private Ryan” serving as an acceptable narrative of the D-Day invasion. Similarly, I think “Roots” and “12 Years a Salve” would also serve as an acceptable, definitive depiction of our darkest days.

    I guess I still struggle with how anyone could NOT be aware of the social history depicted in “12 Years a Slave,” unless there are midnight showings of “Birth of a Nation,” being shown in every city that I am unaware of. What this film does is illustrate the savage nature, in body AND spirit, of slavery in a brilliant, emotional, and stark manner.

    • I agree with a lot of this, especially in the sense that a rounded education might be sufficient that the film version of various extremities in human history is not essential for a lot of people to acquire the emotional truth about such. If you’ve reach widely and deeply, you probably don’t need Saving Private Ryan to successfully contemplate Omaha Beach, or 12 Years A Slave, or Schindler’s List, or Matewan to address slavery, the Holocaust or collective bargaining. Books and imagination can get many people there independent of any film narrative.

      Yet once we acknowledge this, we must concede that film has become the dominant storytelling medium for humanity, and that the reach of television and film exceeds book sales by a geometric proportion. If I sell 100,000 hardbacks, I have a besteller on the NY Times list. If I get a couple or three million to watch an episode of Treme over various viewings and HBO on demand, I’ve got a television show with lousy ratings.

      A film for many people will reach them where other narrative forms will not. That’s just true in our world. Most of us know what slavery was on some level, to be sure. But storytelling and the catharsis of acquiring certain stories is the means by which we feel what slavery is. This is the first time I watched a film treatment of slavery and felt that the story was really endeavoring to serve that function.

      • Film is indeed the dominant storytelling medium for good and ill. For example, the fact that so many smart people have formed their opinions of the Kennedy assassination based on Stone’s “JFK” is repulsive – and I’m very measured in using that term. But it was a well made film.

        But going back to the original argument I assume that anyone, regardless of politics, should be allowed to point out the brilliance of “Birth of a Nation” without subscribing to its narrative, and the shortcomings of “12 years a slave” without excusing the narrative.

        In the end I don’t think I am straddling any lines, nor swimming in any milquetoast of moderation by saying I find good points made in the Breitbart article as well as your response.

        It’s almost as if I suspect a discussion about the 1969 Super Bowl between a Nixon staffer & an SDS leader would spiral into an unnecessary argument.

        • No, I don’t agree.

          There is certainly a defense of both strict constructionism and original intent that I expect to be offered. That argument becomes a meaningless exercise when it proceeds from manufactured presumptions of the trashing of the Constitution, or liberal bullies, whatever such things may be (I presume, liberals who actually state their opinions in public, as opposed to conservative essayists, who are defenders of a purer faith.) Dressing whatever the argument is for original intent in such rhetorical rags makes even engaging in substance an unseemly exercise.

          Much of the internet wallows in that shit, and I find the Huffington or MSNBC unmonitored forums and commentary to be as miserable as Fox and Breitbart. Compare the Brietbart manner for example to Mr. Aguilar, who comes here, argues notably for the alternate judicial philosophy, stretches his points fully, eschews the dumbass name-calling and advances the argument. For that you need grown-ups.

          If you go back and read the corrupted version of my original essay in the first Brietbart essay, or the hyperbolic presumption that no one else knows what Article V says, and then consider where a more intelligent argument needs to go, regardless of viewpoint, I think you’ll see it as a step backwards. And if you read the dishonest editing of that second post, well, what can I tell you. I’m just a farm boy from Baltimore, but I know horseshit when I see it.

          Mr. Aguilar showed how it is done. My arguments were neither exaggerated or misrepresented, nor did the debate depart from substance for political labeling and smug, self-absorbed ideological onanism. We did not convince each other, but in attempting to do so, our arguments were amplified and honed and others here could consider substance, virtue and flaw on both sides. In short, two people of differing views talked to each other, not to some ridiculous cartoon of an ideological opponent. Sorry, Mr. NYC, I can’t find integrity or validity in the Brietbart approach — the precise same method that ended a federal official’s career over the hideous misrepresentation of her actual comments in full. They’ve been trading in this dishonesty for years now; it’s with what they stock the shelves over there. And it isn’t worth the time it takes to respond. Better to wait for Mr. Aguilar and others of like temperment and maturity and launch a real debate or discussion. For a website like this one, folks such as him are the prize.

          Agree about JFK entirely. Good film, utter bullshit in the form of a Garrison-centric world view of all evidence. But then I am partial to the Gerald Posner book that refutes a conspiracy in Dallas. I found Posner to be sober, practical and following Occam’s razor, so if you feel differently about Kennedy, Oswald et al, YMMV.

          • First of all, I am so tired of the term “bullying.” I feel political discourse has descended from the Lincoln-Douglas debates to an unrestrained shouting match at 3 AM in a Dewey Beach dive bar, while self-appointed matrons and hall monitors of speech are ineffectively casting “time-outs” on everyone. At least Joseph Welch didn’t whine and use the term “bully;” opting for the classic, “Have you no decency, sir?”

            And I am especially embarrassed when elfin conservatives, who appear never to have worn a jockstrap, nor gotten into a school yard scrap, writes a book against liberals entitled: “Bullies…” Really? Why not something manly like “Conscience of a Conservative,” or “God and Man at Yale,” or “The Conservative Mind:…” Now, his basic thesis (…The Left’s Culture of Fear & Intimidation”) is often found in reality, no matter the cringe-worth, whining verbiage used. The scores of videos showing an invited conservative speaker on a college campus being shouted down, and prohibited from speaking bares this out. I think, taking that example alone, the only positive thing to say about such insecure, obnoxious, anti-democtractic, ignorant assholedom is, well, it was legal. But it’s ugly, immature invective that throws a blanket on honest debate & free speech with Pompeiian totality.

            But, clearly, you are correct, and any argument that is framed in degenerative, “rhetorical rags” does make one’s argument impotent, and immature.

            A time for grown ups is vital to our nation…I think you’ll agree that we are as polarized as ever, and it’s an awful disease on our social fabric. I find the same garbage when being a proponent of cutting capital gains tax, or begging for a reexamination of how ACA is to be implemented makes one the second-coming of Orval Faubus to those on the left. I don’t think Oprah’s comments to the BBC advanced debate, honest discussion or collegiality.

            I think that Mr. Meyers has a rather valid argument in favor of original intent/ strict constructionism, but he stupidly chose to deliver it with a flame thrower, and bracketed it with contempt for you. Obviously, this devalues his argument, does not advance debate, nor discourse, and, chiefly, and rightly, pisses you off. Plus, I doubt he’d get invited to a dinner with the Board of the Federalist Society.

            I’m not here to defend Brietbart, nor do I want to, but I have found a number of insightful articles over the years on their blog. Additionally, I’ve found excruciatingly ignorant, short-sided, and bombastic articles that greatly hurt the conservative cause, and that seems to be the norm as of late as the anger grows.

            However, both Left and Right blogs may start off being staid, and intellectual, but they soon realize that red meat gets the most unique viewers & activity…and unique views equals dollars, and traction. Ideological blogs can be succinctly summed up in the story of some no-name radio host at a tiny Florida station who was getting 3 call-ins per hour. One day, out of boredom, during Desert Storm he decided to affect a Middle-Eastern accent, pretend to be a caller, and say positive things about Iraq. Well, the phones lit up, and Phil Hendrie is today one of the most legendary, and truly brilliant radio personalities to have ever lived. Incitement works, it’s promulgated on both sides, and in the end America loses.

            Regarding Posner I thought his book was fabulous, and shocked that a book actually changed my thinking. The documentaries from ABC to PBS with ballistics and forensic evidence pointing conclusively to Oswald just solidified my opinion…as solidified as my opinion can be. But, even then, Posner had a mistake in his book about Oswald crossing David Ferry at some point, and conspiracy theorists jumped on that as proof that his entire book should be invalid.

            As a habitue of the best bars in NYC, it saddens me to admit that there is just not enough sobriety in America.

            • Ed, why frame your comments with all the manly man talk? Yay for individuality and unique style and such, but I think you are eloquent enough to not be crass to get your point across.

              As to your pop culture references, I have another suggestion. Stop watching it. I don’t know what Oprah said to to BBC or who the radio show guy is and I don’t think I’m worse off for it. As far as people being shouted down, again, so what? When I was in college, George Bush made a campaign visit and when I encountered his huge crowd of supporters between classses, I turned around and walked the other way. It’s true I rolled my eyes, but I had sunglasses.on. I value civility and I’ve also never worn a jock strap.

              As far as good media gone wrong in chasing ratings, I completely agree with you. In fact, I think this site is a keeper for that reason – Mr Simon isn’t here to make a name for himself or sell advertising. And I think this site is vibrant for the same reasons.

              • Oh, I guess my comment was muddled, and surely “guy-centric.” But, my point was that crying “bully” now is the cause celebre, and it is grossly over-used. Mr. Meyers used it against Mr. Simon in an infantile manner. In the old days, on the school yard, real bullies were dealt with from a position of strength, or weakness. I was pointing out that a fellow conservative, who happens to be diminutive & non-athletic, and hardly the robust stature of Ronald Reagan or Barry Goldwater, took a whining tone with his book naming it “Bullies:…” To me, it stood in stark contrast the most influential conservative books of the 20th Century, and I poked fun. My intent was to be humorous, not crass.

                Now, in pop culture I can hardly claim any knowledge. I am woefully ignorant on current pop culture. In fact, this summer I was writing for a television show that was heavy on pop culture — I couldn’t go 5 minutes without Googling one “celebrities'” name or another. It was depressing — where have you gone Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Grace Kelly, and Audrey Hepburn? You know, Liz Taylor and Richard Burton could drink any current celebrity under the table three-times over, and still exhibit more grace, class, dignity, poise, and celebrity than, well, any star schlepping through West Hollywood.

                I’ll assume Oprah is bigger than pop culture, but, she made news when she stated to the BBC this week that “maybe even in many cases” the harsh criticisms of president Obama are motivated by racism. I find that comment egregiously irresponsible, patently false, and grossly divisive. With a current disapproval rating of 55%, by her logic that’s millions of racists. I think we can have a more eloquent, and elevated debate about presidential job performance without resulting to such debasement.

                Regarding Phil Hendrie – his rise to fame is an allegory, but fear not, he is far outside pop culture. He truly is a genius who conducts 3 hour radio shows daily with hundreds of different voices as his fake call-in audience. Impossible to describe in words, but I know of no major comedian who does not call him a genius.

                Now, as far as being shouted down, so what? EVERYTHING what! Clearly, students have every legal right to act so unbelievably boorish, rude, and obnoxious, but there is a serious, serious problem with conservative intellectuals, or politicians being invited to speak on campus and not being allowed because liberal activist students shout down, and shut down speeches. In institutions that are supposed to be about the free flow of ideas how can anyone applaud such censorship? I don’t want to get too heavy into it, but it is sadly an epidemic that is written about often without any story of Liberals speakers being shouted down by conservatives. Recently, NYC’s Police Commissioner of 12 years who oversaw historic crime drops spoke at Brown, but a cadre of leftist students shouted him down until he left. In a symposium about crime with ample Q&A you don’t want to hear from the Top Cop of the biggest city in America to the point of banishing him from speaking? Why even go if you have no interest? If you disagree with his tactics then sit and listen like ladies and gentleman, and then ask questions latter.

                It is all about public discourse and civility. It is vital to our survival. As long as there is such unsophisticated behavior, and hatred is it any wonder we are so divisive, and the extremes get the most juice?

                I am all about a free exchange of ideas and debate, but if I disagree with Obama’s pulling out support for defensive interceptors in Poland and the Czech Republic I should be able to voice that without those in favor of Obama calling me the Grand Wizard of the KKK. It’s beyond ridiculous, it’s inflammatory, and hateful. It is someone who cannot defend their position, has conveniently forgotten the acrimonious, vile attacks on president Bush, and assumes any critique of the president has an ulterior motivation.

                No one has a monopoly on civility, or incivility, and that is why we all must condemn our respective side when it rears it’s noxious head.

                • I get it. I’m all about civility.

                  Also wanted to circle back to truth. I saw a billboard today with a picture of Greg Mortensen (three cups of tea guy if you didn’t know that). I thought he was the cat’s pajamas and even bought the junior version of the book for my kids to read as an example of the difference one person can make. Then the news came out that maybe his NFP’s finances weren’t being handled quite right. And maybe he didn’t actually have that mountain climbing experience he claimed.

                  I was so angry and felt personally deceived. I took the book from the kids and called him a fraud (I wasn’t quite as psychotic about it as I just sounded here).

                  But in retrospect, was I throwing the baby with the bath? He really did accomplish something, maybe even a lot of somethings. Should he be entirely discredited by angry suburban mothers for not being entire accurate in his story?

                • Leftists? Where? Are we in 1918 Russia? Or is leftist just shorthand for people who might be members of the “democrat” party?

                  • I’m more left than right. But I go issue to issue.

                    On the NSA stuff, the leftists are yelling at me. On the drug war, the libertarians think I’m their pal.

                    If you punctuate an argument by characterizing your opponent, you probably suck at arguing.

                  • In my parlance, and in this particular case of rabid assaults on free speech, a “leftist” is an activist, firebrand liberal without proper manners, and no sense of decorum, patriotism, or democracy.

                    None of my democrat friends would engage in such behavior as to shout down a speaker whom they disagree with in a forum on campus. None of my liberal friends, even the anti-business ones, would dream of engaging in anarchical & violent activities against corporations.

                    In my view there’s absolutely zero similarity between Bertrand Russell and Cindy Sheehan.

                    That’s not to say passion has no place. My best friend (a liberal Berkeley grad who’s march towards the center was in a cadence marking each successive job, wife, house, children, etc. — but, don’t worry he still votes straight D), had a wildly spirited debate at a beach house about the Boland Amendment…so spirited, we were forced out of the house to finish our argument. Minutes later , the cold air & lack of beer sent us back inside to merrily debate Tommy Lasorda vs Billy Martin.

                    My point is you can be as passionate as your heart allows, but you don’t have to be an a-hole. If you felt I was using “leftist” in the perforative I am wore than willing to entertain other words. I can always forgo labels all together and say, “students who refuse to allow conservative thought on campus,” but my missives are long enough as it is.

                    In the end (I feel I have DUI’d the original topic here. Apologies) do people support the physical violence at Columbia University by students who didn’t want to hear the founder of a pro-border control group, the Minutemen, speak at an invited forum, but welcomed peacefully, and respectfully Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a holocaust denier who wishes to destroy Israel?

                • Just a couple of points here:

                  – Taylor and Burton (and the other stars you mentioned) operated within a tightly-controlled studio system wherein private behavior was mandated by contract, and the publicity machine also controlled by the studios. I assure you if you read Burton’s diaries you’ll find descriptions of behind-closed-doors dissolution more pathetic than any case of an inebriated modern-day starlet falling out of an SUV with her cha-cha out. The public just didn’t usually hear about it.

                  – I don’t think Oprah meant to imply that EVERYONE that criticizes the president is racist. However, you can’t deny that there is a racist element to SOME of the criticism of the President. I don’t recall any of our previous Presidents being tarnished as a “radical Kenyan Muslim”. Also, hate crimes against ethnic minorities, as well as KKK enrollment, have surged since his election.

                  – The fact that the majority of colleges and universities are liberal-dominated is perhaps a function of knowledge producing progressiveness. Indeed, studies have shown that anytime there’s more than 50,000 people in a town, OR it has a college/university in it, it automatically goes blue (thus the Republican obsession with redistricting).

                  That having been said, liberal students shouting down conservative speakers, while certainly not civil, is not “censorship” — to the contrary, they are exercising their freedom of speech. Censorship would be refusing to let them speak, or not inviting the conservative speaker in the first place.

                  I doubt this is truly an EPIDEMIC, but in any case, I would submit that perhaps the reason you haven’t seen this problem with liberal speakers on conservative campuses is that a) there aren’t that many conservative campuses and b) those that exist almost never invite a liberal speaker to appear! Have you seen Liberty University’s guest list? They’ll invite Chuck Norris, but they’re not inviting Rachel Maddow, or Mr. Simon for that matter.

                  (Yeah, yeah, I know, Ted Kennedy. But still.)

                  • Well said, KT. And let’s not forget Ray McGovern, a former presidential advisor, who turned his back during a speech by Hillary Clinton and was beaten bloody for that exercise of free speech.

                  • * Regarding the behavior of real celebrities in the past there was no doubt just as much debauchery, but I’d argue it was less of a studio system, and more of Americans in general who possessed shame, which seems wholly absent today. There will always be debauchery, but we are better off for it if it were kept in private and the participants were more sartorially aware. Trust me, I’ll take a publicly inebriated & tuxeod Richard Harris, Richard Burton, and Peter O’Toole sloshed beyond comprehension, who can then spin a wildly entertaining tale about it on TV, over the rantings of Alec Baldwin, or Justine Bieber peeing in a mop bucket.

                    * Oprah used the term “many” which was egregious. No I don’t see any racist element at all with any mainline conservative commentator or politician in attacking the policies of president Obama. Are there racist blogs read by 9 people, most certainly! The Kenyan thing was brought up by democrat operatives for Clinton during the primaries. I know of no one personally who holds such an ignorant view, and no one in the mainstream conservative press does – that I am aware of at least. Don’t forget the vicious attacks on president Bush – he was often compared to a chimp, Hitler, orchestrated 9-11, etc. Hardly respectable words of the loyal opposition. I haven’t seen any data to say attacks on minorities are on the rise at all, in fact the opposite — it’s all in which media choses to print. I think Thomas Sowell’s recent piece on the current wave of “Polar Bearing” is chilling & vile.

                    * Now, I will assume that your paragraph here is simply inartfully crafted. I’ll make the faithful leap that you are not saying that liberals are “knowledgeable,” whereas “conservatives” are not. I think any viewing of the old PBS series “Firing Line” will disabuse anyone of that notion. Now, there are two things at work, in my opinion, in American universities, (A.) a paucity of conservative scholars being hired, and (B.) a propensity of college professors to focus on theory in combat to conventional wisdom, especially in social sciences. Is it just happenstance that John Maynard Keynes is taught in superior form & substance compared to Milton Friedman on a majority of college campuses? Or that U.S. history is taught from a Howard Zinn-like angle of always attacking the conventional wisdom of great Americans from the exclusive vantage point of labor, or enemies of the States, or the oppressed, even when none exist? Is there a fear of parity in the teaching of American history? When there is a publicly pronounce effort of an educational institution to mandate that greater emphasis will be put on, say,Caesar Chavez, than, say, Thomas Edison, it greatly obscures historical knowledge.There is often an establishment of an echo-chamber within universities solely because the political make-up of professors, and teaching materials are so definitely skewed leftward. To this, there can be no debate. Would a university not be more enriched if roughly half of the economic professors subscribed to Paul Krugman, and roughly half to Thomas Sowell? If it’s 90-10 then a student’s instruction of economics is severely truncated. Now, ideally, a professor should teach both & let the students take the intellectual journey to which philosophy they think is more valid.* I could not disagree more – it is 100% censorship, and if you want to label it “free speech,” it is free speech by infantilism, and thoroughly anti-democratic since it prevents opposing views. Please understand these are not students voicing displeasure, but students screaming like banshees until the speaker gives up & is unable to deliver their speech. Just recently the appalling actions of students at Brown against Commission Kelly. That is censorship by force, and is rather revolting on a college campus.

                    • Hang on. I don’t want Censorship to be the New Bullying.

                      Much like to the oft-forgotten definition of bullying involving a power differential, isn’t censorship an institutional process?

                    • **Regarding question below, Katie:

                      * A student organization invites a guest lecturer, or speaker who is right of center. A group of students (I think we can fairly label them left of center) bristle at said speaker speaking. They disrupt proceedings & prevent the speech from continuing. Now, if censorship by force is not a charming enough descriptor, I’m accepting applications for a more precise word to describe such obnoxious, anti-intellectual temper tantrums.

                    • I don’t care about charming, I just think that the word evokes the First Amendment. I certainly hope you are not trying to claim that anyone’s first amendment rights were violated.

                    • – I can’t argue on Justin Bieber being a jerk. You got me on that one.

                      – “Many” is a term with a lot of wiggle room in it. It’s not “all” or even “most”. I think you’re reading too much into it. Also, your note about Clinton is not accurate. Indeed, when a picture of Obama in traditional Somali garb was circulating, Hillary specifically put out a picture of herself in similar gear. (The Drudge Report claimed that her campaign was the source of the Obama picture, but they never provided proof and the campaign specifically denounced those claims.) If this were true it would make no sense for Obama to appoint her to any cabinet role — let alone the one wherein she has to interact with every ethnic group on planet Earth.

                      And are Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones not considered mainstream conservatives? They have millions of listeners. How about Donald Trump? Michelle Bachmann? Sarah Palin? Mike Huckabee? Newt Gingrich? Gotta be honest, when it comes to the current state of the right wing, I can’t even tell who’s considered a fringe extremist anymore, so you tell me.

                      – I know of no university with a policy that states that Cesar Chavez is to be focused on over Thomas Edison. Though I wouldn’t necessarily consider it inappropriate if it did — most students should have learned the basic facts about Edison in elementary school, whereas they might not have learned about union organizing.

                      And no, I personally don’t feel that a university has any obligation to provide equal airtime to opposing political views, particularly if those political views are anti-science or anti-intellectual. They are institutions of learning, not publicly-funded networks.

                    • I gotta admit, Ed, I took a step back and I’m completely lost as to what you are trying to get across here.

                      We were talking about the importance of 12 years a slave and how that relates to the worship of “Founding Fathers.”

                      Then we were talking about how to have a real discussion without name calling.

                      Now we’re deep into celebrities, 1918 Russia, bucket urination, and estimating what percentage of a particular economic theory is taught in certain universities.

                      We’ve shifted from calling everyone bullies to labeling everything censorship.

                      While I’m never the smartest person in the room, I’m usually ok with following conversations. I’ve got to admit I’m lost as to what the point is now.

                      Can we call it censorship by verbosity, or would that be taking things too far???

                    • Ha, have we reached the right-hand reply limit of the thread format? Anyway, Katie, your post above gave me a chuckle. I’m lost too, but I maintain my righteous opinion that Justin Bieber is just not a very nice person.

                    • Yes, as often the case, this conversation veered into oncoming traffic.

                      If there was confusion – I’ll take the blame for confusing KT & Katie. Understandable, no?

                      * Certainly my original comments were about “!2 Years/Slave”, and every deviation from the original post was merely a riff on what someone else had said. Just defending a point, or offering a different perspective.

                      * Finally, it still baffles me that people say so derisively, and divisively, in the course of “debate,” that conservatism is somehow “anti-science,” and “anti-intellectual?” When did this happen? Do people really think that the patron saint of modern conservative thought, Wm F. Buckley Jr. was anti-intellectual? Or that the HMS Beagle and Book of Genesis are mutually exclusive?

                      To hold conservative thought & ideology hostage to some tweet by an ex-gov. of Ak is as intellectually dishonest as saying liberalism in neatly encapsulated on the rantings of Ward Churchill and Ian Murphy.

                    • Oh no! Right side quote max!

                      Well, yes confusing the names. Rest assured, I’m not nearly cleaver enough to pull off two personas though.

                      On Bieber, I can’t speak to bucket tinkles, but I have the earworm…

                      Baby, baby, baby oooh
                      Like baby, baby, baby nooo
                      Like baby, baby, baby oooh

                      Mr. Simon, I bet this train wreck won’t make it to the next session of dangerous ideas.

    • Ed, I think there is a huge difference between an intellectual knowing and an emotional connection. I know some people roll their eyes at that, especially in this forum which dwells in the land of the intellect.

      I understand the history of slavery, as I think most people do. But for me, and I suspect for others, there little connection to lists of dates and facts. I think there is immense power in connecting to one person over a global set of facts. Reading Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl in college gave me a deeper understanding of the disempowerment of slaves and females than any third person history book with piles of information. That’s what makes this movie important, I think. Not that it reveals new facts, but that it provides depth missing in other formats.

      I’m not saying superior, inherently, but that they are both important.

      • There is a difference, but I’ve gotten emotional over a book, more so than a Hallmark film. Film is indeed the most powerful medium to move people, but there is nothing more powerful than one’s imagination. I think in the end you can conjure up more horror in your own mind listening to a brilliant radio program than a Vincent Price film.

        • Personally, I would make a distinction between power and reach. Hard to say that prose has any less power than image or moving image, or for that matter verse, spoken word or song. Kind of depends on the substance and the individual human heart.

          Reach is another story. Moving image is reaching more of the world than prose and the gap grows ever larger.

          • Agree wholeheartedly on reach of film, and the sad gulf with prose. And because of that reach do you think filmmakers have a least a modicum of responsibility to be faithful to historical fact? Even as a historian I’ll give a film as wide a birth as possible in historical accuracy as long as the story is well crafted & told. But people tend to get their history from film. Now, I suppose it is OK to have one’s general knowledge of Cleopatra from the eponymous film, but I think it’s dangerous that people view the disastrously dishonest Garrison as a heroic truth-seeker in “JFK.”

            Now, I think it is important that America be made aware of a group of black men being segregated in their own country who then fought for their country as pilots in WWII. But, I think it is also ok to say that “Red Tails” is a film of fiction painting historical fact with incredibly broad strokes, and not terribly well made (surprisingly) at that. Doesn’t mean we should ignore or belittle the contributions of black airmen in a then segregated army, of course, but I would not want “Red Tails” to be the definitive history about black pilots in WWII for those who refuse to read, rather I would want the documentary on the Tuskegee Airmen.

            Movies are for entertaining, not for history lessons, but some of our best stories are rooted in factual events. The writer should have, in my opinion, a responsibility to not rewrite history for their own ideological beliefs. For example, a biopic on Thomas Jefferson that focuses exclusively on his being a slave owner to the exclusion of his writings on democracy and hand in forming this nation is just as dishonest as a film that completely ignores the fact that he owned human beings. Ok, fine, any filmmaker will include both facts, but where should the weight be? Should we even demand a percentage of screen time must be about his being a slave owner, and another “acceptable” percentage of screen time be about his writing the Declaration of Independence? Although, I think it is silly to have dictates on what historical facts a biopic must include (Like the Soviet Film Commission), a film about a historical figure will no doubt raise the ire of one segment or another if it lacks the acceptable amount of dirt or glory as they see it.

            • As a former reporter who wrote two books of narrative non-fiction, my answer can almost be assumed. If a story has been fictionalized, say so. Don’t lie. If it is accurate to history, then claim that. If it is generally accurate to some source material, but elements have been fictionalized, then acknowledge that. Tell the damn truth about what you’ve done.

              “The Wire” was fictional, but we utilized the actual institutions of Baltimore and the problems and dynamics of that city at the turn of the century. “Treme” was fictional in its characterization, but was generally accurate to the post-Katrina history of New Orleans. But “The Corner” and “Generation Kill” were devoted non-fictional narratives based on the book I wrote with Ed Burns, and the book by Evan Wright in the latter. We kept to the actual material in both cases and used the real names and events as a result. And each time, we’ve been clear about what viewers were watching.

              So I am in agreement that entertainments that play with history should be so-labeled. The Garrison treatment in JFK was highly speculative and oblivious to contradictory facts, and it would have been better civics if Oliver Stone could have been an auteur in offering the speculative tale, but then something of a historian in the claims he made for the film when it landed. It would have been nice if he had acknowledged the limitations of the source material at the point of presentation, if indeed, he is even aware of those limitations. But that said, a director or writer is certainly entitled to offer a speculate or alternate argument for a historical event. Apocalypse Now is Conrad grafted on to our misadventure in Vietnam, and the fictional template makes the movie unsuitable for historical precision; it’s also brilliant. Paths of Glory is a screenplay advanced from a wholly fictional novel based on a true event in World War I; it probably gets closer to a lot of the truth of 20th Century authoritarianism than any careful history of the Great War. Picasso’s quote about art being the lie that shows us the truth is not a trifling one, in my opinion.

              But again, Coppolla and Kubrick were honest in making claims for that they had done.

              All that said, I don’t think a storyteller is obliged to be completist. No story is about everything about an event, or issue, or person. Indeed, when a story is about everything, it is about nothing. And point-of-view is an essential narrative device that by definition limits the scope and scale of information, and predetermines the course of narrative. A movie centered on the relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemmings for example is under no obligation to deal with his authorship of the Declaration of Independence. And a film that is centered on the Constitutional Convention doesn’t necessarily have to follow Madison home and depict plantation life.

              More fundamental still is the fact that narrative, unlike a researched history text, can only tell one story — unless it is Rashoman-like in approach which is unusual and improbable. For exmaple, I’ve worked on scripts aboout the Lincoln Assassination. Did Stanton say:

              “Now he belongs to the angels.”

              Or the more poetical:

              “Now he belongs to the ages.”

              In writing and filming that moment, I can only choose one. And of course even the historians are still arguing it.

              But beyond the necessary choices in the moment, there have to be choices about what a story is about and what is it not about. Even a story such as the “The Wire,” which entails 60 hours of dramatization of a post-industrial city, isn’t about all things Baltimore, or even most things Baltimore. It doesn’t deal with immigration, or tourism, or home ownership, or commercial development to any real degree. Whole tracts of society are ignored. Gender issues aren’t discussed. It’s one story that deals largely with that portion of urban America that has been left behind. In short, every storyteller is entitled to make choices about what story to tell.

              People who rush in afterward and say, why didn’t you include X or Y always strike me as a little ridiculous. A very smart, academic writer evaluating Treme during the first season made an argument that we weren’t dealing with the issue of flood control and what actually happened in the Katrina engineering failure in detail. Looking at the story we were telling, this struck me as an academic writer thinking very little about narrative, or character, or point-of-view. How many scenes of Corps of Engineer meetings and Levee Board hearings did this fellow think could be sustained in an HBO drama about ordinary New Orleanians? Did he want public affairs reportage, or a dramatic narrative? Does he understand the difference between drama and journalism? It doesn’t seem so.

              Again, a story is a story. And dramatic choices are just that. A story isn’t obliged to be about everything known about its subject, or even all of the major elements. But hey, whatever story you tell, be honest about what is real and what you made up. That seems a fundamental responsibility.

              • Which begets the argument of title cards: “Based on a True Story;” “Inspired by..,” etc.

                But, in the end it’s up to the viewer, and if she is so moved by a great story, it’s rather easy to seek out additional information about the subject, even during the credits.

                My battle is being instructed by precise, Jesuit professors who put just as much emphasis on the art of writing as the art of understanding Herodotus to Theodore White. I love them for it, but I am sometimes stunted by my adherence to historical accuracy.

                As a result I actually struggle with my non-fiction story. In an epic argument, excruciatingly detailed verbatim in the New York Times 120 years ago, between two police commissioners, my protagonist, the third commissioner, was not there. However, everything about my entire story screams it HAS to be him — the bad commissioner battling the good one. It’s a no brainer, of course, but I sometimes fear that even though I’ve conceivably entertained millions, Fr. Buckley would appear pointing out that historians of late 19th Century NYC will know I was lying. And the descendants of Commissioner X will be irreparably hurt thinking their ancestor advocated illegal bloodshed in the streets!

                Yes, I know, honesty to story, trumps honesty to history.

                I guess it’s all “Inspired by a True Story.”

                • To belabor a point, what does accurate to history even mean? I think maybe where you and I differ is that I don’t believe that’s a credible goal because everything is filtered through interpretation.

                  Plus, remember, the Jesuits are always right.

                  • That’s certainly an argument I had multiple times with multiple professors. Is there such a thing as a true, unfiltered, unbiased accounting of history? We debated this for hours back when I wore a size 34 waist…and they were loose.

                    I know that “History is written by the victors” is a rather common refrain, but I suspect we are closer, at least in Western Civilization, to a truer accounting of facts without glaring bias, more so than one thinks. I have a history book about the Crusades from 1870 and they are shocking objective – there was no “Christians good, Moslems bad,” it was rather precise when I compare it to more recent books.

                    But for me, I feel an obligation to not have a Centurion soldier with a wrist watch, or Prohibition teen speaking like Justin Bieber. If it is a story well told about the 50’s, then I want every car, TV, and stitch of clothing as accurate as possible, like “Avalon.”

                    For me, honest & truth of people should be enveloped in truth to period, place, etc.

            • History books and movies have different goals. You can illuminate a truth in a movie or in a work of fiction or even creative non-fiction even if the story line isn’t accurate. Because, really, what does the “truth” even mean.

              Take 12 Years a Slave — seems as if this is an accurate film version of a memoir. Now, if one of the character’s descendants comes forward and says they have an account from their forebearers that disputes a few items, does that make it less true or is it two people remembering something differently? Does that then call into question the entire accuracy of the movie and can we ever really know? And does it even matter?

              I think that when you start to believe that there is a hierarchy of worthiness between books and movies, you start down the path of elitism which doesn’t help anyone. I don’t think you need to rank artwork from best to worst because it is all entirely subjective. There are good books and bad books. There are good movies and bad movies. To me, there is usually a little nugget of illumination everywhere if you stay open to the possibility.

              Not defending or even interested in the JFK movie – I don’t think I’ve ever seen it.

              I think the issue is having citizens who can think critically and distinguish nuance. I believe we’re capable of it, but it’s a learned set of skills. Should we talk about our education system next?

              • Now, if the education system could turn out mostly all well-schooled individuals then, well, we can change the world!…..alas, people love film, and god love ’em. But, it is a problem when my BOSS admitted she really thought Jack and Rose were real characters in Titanic until just recently.

                • Hm. Well, I’m sure there were plenty of heartbreaking stories that would mirror the deeper truth of Jack and Rose. I would still argue that it doesn’t really matter whether they were real people or not. Still, I get your larger point and I’m with you on education. Everyone needs a team of Jesuits.

                  • That’s my point! If Cameron would spend some much money on exact replica patterned plates stacked high where there is zero chance that anyone would see they are plain white, why not dramatized a real couple since there were so many! When have someone firing guns when no such thing happened? That story of the Astors, or the O’Hearn’s in steerage would be so much more compelling because it has a link of truth in a story about a very real event.

  • Am I link bait now? Christ.
    Not just any link bait mind you-grade A. Prime. Such is the internet.

    I for one am very appreciate of your sharing of your mind both on and off the internet and your love of good discussion and debate. Your post on the movie makes me want to see it out of necessity now, not just desire. Keep moving the discussion forward and kicking the can back up from the gutter as needed so it doesn’t get lost in the muck 🙂

  • Please, please, please. Do not disengage from your followers, and that is my biggest fear about this forum. The best part about this blog is that someone as accomplished and knowledgeable as you takes the time to engage with us riff-raff. This truly is that corner of the internet where we can find more than name calling.

    • People, people. Not looking for personal affirmation, or thinking about disengagement. In fact, the wife has me working on a link-bait posting where you will be able to input the outcome that you require: Simon is a fascist, Simon is a Trotskyite, Simon is a pedophile. It’s a pretty clean matrix. You decide what I am and then a search engine delivers you to the disembodied line from the bowels of an essay or comment elsewhere on the site that affirms your notion. This could be a real public service, allowing many to quickly access the randomized bits as they require, but not actually ever read and assess anything to completion or with context. A time-saver if nothing else. And the rest of us can try to manufacture an actual discussion/argument about something worth the time.

      Yours in anti-democratic, anti-art, neo-Marxist squalor, I am, if nothing else, a giver. I live to give.

      • Come on, Mr.Simon. We know you are practicing your daily affirmations right now.

        I saw this thing on Facebook the other day (I know, I know) that does something similar. It grabs all your posts, mixes them up and delivers something that resembles a sentence, but is ridiculous.

        Although I think you could patent “the simonizer”.

        Gosh darn it, people like me.

        • The hunt for a good argument is eternal.

          A joke from my particular culture: At a conservative synagogue — not orthodox, not reformed, but a middle-of-the-road suburban American temple — all of the longstanding members are arguing with each other furiously and continuously about whether it is necessary to stand at the silent repetition of a particular prayer, or whether it is permissible to sit during the repetition. The argument ranges widely, goes to questions of devotion, and theology, and then accusations of grave apostasy and rank sanctimony. Finally, a decision is made. The synagogue elders will journey en masse to visit the only surviving founder of the shul. They arrive at Levindale Retirement Community and crowd into the aged Mr. Mermelstein’s room.

          “Mr. Mermelstein, you must solve this for us. It is an important question for the shul.”

          The old man looks up at them curiously.

          “Do we stand during the repetition of the Amidah?”

          “That is not the tradition,” replies Mr. Mermelstein.

          “So we can sit during the repetition of the Amidah.”

          “That is not the tradition.”

          “Mr. Mermelstein,” wails the congregation president, exhausted. “We are arguing ourselves blue in the face over this, shouting, ranting and driving each other crazy without ever getting to an answer…

          “Ah,” says Mr. Mermelstein. “That is the tradition.”

          • Sorry to bring this back to something more serious, but I had a thought that I would like to run by you. I live in TX and I bought a house recently. So I see Mexican labor toiling away every day working on my house, to the point where “hand scraped hardwood floors” sound like “cotton handpicked by n*****”” In my so far unwhetted opinion, the Mexican labor, the hard toiling that they put in and the way we choose to ignore the realities of their lives is akin to 21st century slavery. The suburban jungles are the cotton plantations of the 21st century and the laborers lining up at the local RaceTrack are….. Am I way off? Or maybe you have covered this in your larger narrative some other place.

                • Don’t mean to be short or flip, but the globalization of capital and labor has removed the tension of collective bargaining from American life. Immigrants have always been vulnerable, as last-hired, first-fired and slow to be incorporated in unions even when labor was organized. Now, overseas workers are the prize in this race to the economic bottom.

                  When collective bargaining becomes a truly international campaign and the governments of major economic powers are pressed to make trade-status dependent on participation in collective bargaining, then workers will not be marginalized and disadvantaged. But now, of course, we are marching in the other direction and there will be a lot more human attrition to maximize profit, not less.

                  • Your comment didn’t come across as short, nor as flip. I just got to wondering how these guys can organize themselves for a better quality of life but I got caught up in the dull drudgery of life, and couldn’t put good thought into asking further intelligent questions how I should go about it before I asked you to respond further. All this is to say that the gratitude is sincere and not in response to any perceived shortness or flippancy(if that’s even a word). Thanks again for indulging me.

  • It really is funny that in an attempt to portray you as someone unwilling to engage in any debate over your position that he attempts to reduce your essay on 12 Years A Slave down to one sentence. That’s so lazy it’s embarrassing.

  • Mr Simon, you can continue to offer rational proof and context till the proverbial cows come home but I don’t think it matters. The “discourse” I most often see on the Internet involves take a line here or there, interpreting it in the most useful way possible to forward a predetemined point of view, then repeating it until it becomes widely accepted as true. Sadly, I don’t think a significant number of people are looking to take their brains out for a jog, they just want proof of their own rightness. Safety in numbers and confirmation bias and such.

    And for bloggers … In my limited experience, there is a great temptation to chase blog hits and you can easily do that by looking at your stats page and repeating things that get the most attention.

    I read your blog with great interest and tell people all the time that this is how it should be working. But I also think it’s only a matter of time before you walk away. Snark and elevator speeches rule the web.

    All that said, I think you do have a tremendous impact on people who read but rarely post. Look at Ed of NYC the other day — it seems he found his way here through breibert and was quite well intentioned and cogent. So maybe the field of dreams philosophy will work and maybe these frustrating pieces of hackery are doing the world a favor by sending the right people to the right places.

  • Either these writer’s reading comprehension skills are severely lacking, or they are intentionally misleading their audience in order to… what, I don’t know. First you are anti-constitution, then you are anti-art. Both he and the foof over at Breitbart each latched onto a single, out of context, sentence and manufactured an argument that you never made, that any person with the reading skills of an eighth grader and see that you didn’t make.

    The mind, it boggles.

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