Posts tagged movies

Column on The Pleasures of Humiliation?

The Pleasures of Humiliation?

Tibor R. Machan

Call me old fashioned, and in some matters I proudly am, but for me entertainment needs to contain a solid dose of enjoyment. So when I select my movies or TV fare, I usually check whether I will be enjoying what I am about to encounter. Of course, sometimes I want to experience tragedy, information, complexity, and other ingredients in what I chose for my entertainment but even then some upbeat stuff must be a feature of it.

I have only very few contemporary television programs I choose to watch — mostly some science and wilderness shows (the latter usually with the sound muted so I don’t have to hear the lopsided pleadings of environmentalists while I get the benefits of learning about and witnessing the Russian or Alaskan wilderness). Then there are some news programs I watch almost regularly, although if they are too lopsided in their viewpoint, like Bill O’Reilly or Fareed Zakaria, I will quickly, after watching for just several minutes, delete them from my list of recorded shows.

As far as entertainment is concerned, there are again only a few offerings I find pleasurable. One is White Collar, another Burnt Notice (most of the time, especially when Michael’s mother, played by Sharon Gless, who’s a consummate guilt warrior, is absent). Mostly I stick to reruns of Perry Mason, Have Gun Will Travel, Rockford Files, or Maverick. I did enjoy Boston Legal, even though the political and public policy values guiding it, apart from the respectable bits of the rule of law, were often despicable — corporation and profit bashing were running themes.

I usually check out new shows, once or twice, and that’s what I did with the recently begun Suits. So far it has proved to be a disappointment for me, mostly because the two initial shows contained orgies of humiliation among the characters as the primary means of entertainment, of the fun being offered up viewers. Yes, the repartee has been bright and fast but mostly at someone’s expense. Indeed, the most likable character, the one with the brains and with solid work habits and ethics, is constantly subjected to one-upmanship by other characters who are cads and usually play his administrative superiors. And those, then, are also subjected to humiliation by their superiors, and on and on and on. I suspect that somewhere down the line most of these arseholes will get their comeuppance but in the meantime viewers must endure this ongoing torture by the nitwits of their betters. It is like those violent programs, including movies, in which a great deal of brutality is depicted, relentlessly, before finally the perpetrators get what’s coming to them.

I am just not one who finds such cruelty, whether psychological or physical, enjoyable. Some of this may well have to do with me personally, since I have experienced a fairly hefty dosage of both early in my life. And, yes, entertainment is, to a significant extent, personal, maybe even subjective — although that is a misleading characterization of playing to people’s idiosyncrasies. But in fact I am quite baffled when I find that someone I respect and like finds programs enjoyable in which such devices are routinely deployed. In Suits — and the two installments I’ve seen may not be representative of what’s coming — not only is humiliation a constant among the players but there is little of substance beyond it. Boston Legal, even when morally obtuse, had at least the steady dosage of fictional law to keep one’s interest. While most television fiction, as well as movies, dwell too much on relationship issues, at the expense of seeing anyone doing any kind of creative, productive work, the legal fictions tend to have some substance, too. But in the two episodes of Suits there was nothing much to demonstrate the competence of any of the characters. Mostly it was all about mutual and nasty manipulation, with very few admirable attributes on display.

By the way, I am an avid reader of novels, especially WW II spy stories by, among others, Philip Kerr, and also of legal thrillers (when they get to the attempt to solve crimes, resolve disputes in court, etc.), as well as a few plain old whodunits. (I am a fan of Henning Mankell, despite his naive politics. And I am a great fan of Daniel Silva and Alan Furst.) But I also readily put down a novel even if I have reach the halfway point if something annoying starts to dominate it.

The cynicism and misanthropy of the two installments of Suits that I have seen are for me very unpleasant. Still, on the advice of family and friends, I will give the show one or two more chances. Yet time is precious when one gets old and so I think I may be looking for some more reruns, like Barney Miller, perhaps?

Column on Israel and Obama: What’s Up with That?

Israel & Obama: What’s Up With That?

Tibor R. Machan

Once again I hasten to point out that this isn’t something I know very much about, especially if to understand it one has to be informed about the entire history of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Still, as my mother used to say in the last years of her life, it is difficult to fathom why Israel is being picked on so much? Is it religion? Is it its closeness to the United States of America?

Some will say Israel is an artificial entity but that cannot be it–nearly every country is an artificial entity. All borders are made up. The only difference is how recently! And, as the work of Professor Barry Smith of SUNY Buffalo has shown, some of them are more sensible, as when they follow some coast line or river, than others, when they attempt to carve out some kind of geometrical area for themselves.

But here the issue of borders is moot. Let’s just realize that when a country has deadly enemies around it, the size of the area which separates it from those enemies makes a lot of difference. President Obama has proposed that Israel go back to the pre-1967 borders where it would be surrounded by such groups as Hamas and separated from them by only six miles. A great many influential people living in these regions are on record wanting Israel to disappear, to be abolished as a country.

Even if one has little sympathy for Israel’s official viewpoint, no one in his right mind can expect the leaders of that country to comply with President Obama’s suggestion. It is a recommendation for suicide.

But why? Mr. Obama himself appears to be committing something near political suicide since a great many Americans of a wide variety of persuasions about Israel would not favor his recommendation. Responses to his proposal confirm this. It just makes no sense given how the main purpose of government is to protect the citizens’ rights and for the Israeli government this must mean keeping the likes of Hamas at a distance that is safe. And no one can argue that by going back to the 1967 borders this task can be achieved, not especially with the great technical advances in the range of offensive weapons since 1967!

So I just do not get it. What is Mr. Obama after? Does he want to endear himself to all those countries that are anti-Israeli? Is he trying to befriend anti-Semites around the world? It isn’t even fathomable that he has thought this through carefully, at least not with the information available to those who have been following his public utterances about the matter. Does he perhaps simply want to foster a total stalemate, given how it makes no sense to think that Israel will follow this suggestion or even that Mr. Obama could believe that Israel would do so.

Whatever one’s view is of Israel it cannot be sensible to demand that the country voluntarily abolish itself. So then what is this all about? Is it just some kind of geopolitical gambit to the effect that Israel can be given up, even after decades of “investment” in the country made at the expense of the American taxpayer? (Not that this could be justified morally but perhaps given the statist nature of most diplomacy it could make some sense.)

Or is it really simply plain, unabashed anti-Semitism? I was once witness to this, when I lived briefly with my father in Munich and in America where he never let up on his virulent hatred of Jews. I remember that it was completely irrational–for instance, at one time he concocted the notion that Jews in Hollywood conspired to cast actors who “looked Jewish” into heroic movie roles so as to gain the Jews favor with the movie going public. His example if I recall right was when MacDonald Carey, who was supposedly Jewish looking by my father’s warped assessment, starred as a hero, opposite Rhonda Fleming, in the movie Odongo (the plot of which I have completely forgotten).

Now I recount this only because it illustrates for me, at least, to what lengths anti-Semites will go to promote their bizarre conspiracy theories about Jews. And my father held a responsible job at Radio Free Europe back then, although he wasn’t very public about his anti-Semitic views by the mid-50s, unlike he was back in the 40s when Hungary was filled with rabid anti-Semites–I believe they were of the Iron Cross persuasion.

So it is not at all unpalatable to me to consider that some highly placed American politicians could well harbor blatant anti-Semitic sentiments. Mind you, none of this comes from any inside information about Mr. Obama and his administration. What it comes from is my desperate effort to make sense of something so senseless as Mr. Obama’s recommendation to Israel that the country commit suicide by going back to the 1967 borders which would certainly leave them utterly vulnerable to destruction by its avowed nearby enemies! Some people do feel about Jews and about Israel in ways that could conceivably lead them to make such proposals.