Saturday, April 29, 2006

United 93

David Gelernter gave the best defense of movies like United 93 long before the events of 9-11-01. This is from his 1997 book Drawing Life:

History is inspiring. Bravery is inspiring. It is shameful we no longer teach this to our children.
These quotes are from a 1998 article in the Weekly Standard, "Unresolved Evil":

What matters is our communal response to the crime. Evil is easy, good is hard, temptation is a given; therefore, a healthy society talks to itself.

Such ritual denunciations strengthen our good inclinations and help us suppress our bad ones. We need to hear them, and hear good acts praised, too. We need to hear the crowd (hear ourselves) praising good and denouncing evil.

Goodness is unnatural, and we need to cheer one another on

Yehudit at Winds of Change and Kesher Talk addresses some of the critics of the film in "United 93: Mars and Venus".

Yehudit treats the critics firmly but fairly. I wonder, though, if that gives them too much credit. I cannot shake the feeling that the arguments made against United 93 would never be made in other contexts.

For example, can you imagine reading this in the Washington Post Style section?

No one knows what happened in those dark hours in Mississippi. Mamie Till-Mobley, the NAACP, and Life magazine want to use the shocking pictures to force us to fill in the blanks. A crime so horrible demands punishment and if punishment is not imminent it can only be because there is a conspiracy to protect the guilty. Faced with the harrowing results of homicide, they know that we will forget all about due process and the Rashomon nature of criminal investigations.
Do you think that the New York Times would ever run something like this in its "Week in Review" section?

Matthew Shepherd's family and the gay rights movement want to make his death symbolic of something larger. The facts of the case, however, can be seen in many different ways. Sadly, the basic outlines of the story-a night of drug use, hours spent drinking squalid bars, a casual pick-up gone bad-are all too familiar to any police reporter. You do not need homophobia to get a corpse on the bad side of the tracks. It maybe presumptuous to believe that homophobia is the only reason that this gay man is dead.
I do not expect to see any such debunking of conventional pieties even when there is a clear agenda at work. So why is there such a rush to revise, demur, admonish, and caution when the vehicle is United 93? Nearly everyone agrees that Greenglass was careful to focus only on the details of that day. Others will use the movie for their various agendas, but the movie itself is neutral on the political questions.

Yehudit hit on something important with this:
I had predicted that the fault line would be one's understanding of the terrorist threat: People who believe we need to counter this threat aggressively, with war if necessary, are using the film to strengthen their resolve. Those who think war is a wrongheaded response understand the role the film plays for "warmongers," and want to undermine its power by finding fault with its fidelity to facts and its treatment of heroism.
I wrote this three years ago:
The divide between the Chicks and Toby (who i like only half the time), highlights a fault line in the country at large after 9-11. Col. Jeff Cooper put it best: what happened wasn't a "tragedy" , it was an "atrocity." This distinction is important because, as he noted, the proper reaction to a tragedy is sadness, but for an atrocity it is rage.

The post-911 consensus is that we can be sad. If we are angry, our betters in the media want no part of it or us. That is the attitude reflected by the Chicks. For those who agree with Col Cooper, the Chicks and their LA friends are an annoyance and an irritant.

"Fault line" is a good metaphor. There is something deep and hidden at work here. Every so often something comes along like United 93 or The Sum of All Fears. Think of them as tremblers that alert us to the existence of the forces far beneath of surface of journalism.

Here, maybe, are a couple more tremblers:

Dahlia Lithwick in Slate:

9/11 wasn't just a recent national trauma, it's also a trauma for which we have no analogue. There's no template yet for what it all meant or where to put it. So, while I am not always sympathetic to claims that this trauma is a different sort of trauma, and these survivors and relatives of victims are a different sort of survivor and relative, I do think we need to concede that 9/11 really is different.

Steven Pinker on elite tastes:

Sophisticated people sneer at feel-good comedies and saccharine romances in which everyone lives happily ever after. But when it comes to science, these same people say, "Give us schmaltz!" They expect the science of human beings to be a source of emotional uplift and inspirational sermonizing.

G. K. Chesterton, As I Was Saying:

Do not be proud of the fact that your grandmother was shocked at something which your are accustomed to seeing or hearing without being shocked. ... It may be that your grandmother was an extremely lively and vital animal and that you are a paralytic.

And to close, Gelernter again:

Don't be surprised, don't be upset, don't be judgmental. Be passive: morally, spiritually. Our 'resilience', our 'practicality' (another word from the Journal), our unsurprise, our noble disdain for 'being judgmental'-- how could all that possibly be just the effect of violence and no part of the cause?

Between lawmen and reporters on the whole it is impossible, however, not to notice this difference: Most lawmen seem to hate criminals, and most reporters couldn't care less.

Drawing Life

Paris, 1893: A terrorist bomb explodes in the Chamber of Deputies. No one is killed but forty-seven people are hurt. The anarchist intellectual Laurent Tailhade is asked to comment. He speaks prophetically for the 20th century intelligentsia and for Harvard University circa 1998: 'Qu'importe les victimes si le geste est beau?' What difference do the victims make if the gesture is beautiful?

When a terrorist murders a man, it is a meaningless act. There are evil men in every society, and they do evil things; that's all

"Unresolved Evil"

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