Anti-Semite or Scold?

Here's what every writer lives for. A lukewarm, semi-endorsement by your editor in a major newspaper.

"What Gregg wrote was a mistake, and I think he regrets it. And I don't think he's an anti-Semite."

You think he regrets it? You think (but don't know for sure) he's not an anti-semite? That's from a New York Daily News piece in which New Republic editor Peter Beinart defends (if that's that right word for it) staff blogger Gregg Easterbrook for a bizarre piece Easterbrook wrote October 13 on his TNR-sanctioned Easterblogg.

Ostensibly an attack on what a fake, phony, and horrible artist Quentin Tarantino is (and what a piece of junk Kill Bill is), Easterbrook veered off on the sort of ethnographic non sequitur usually only ascribed to conservative folks such as Rush Limbaugh:

Corporate sidelight: Kill Bill is distributed by Miramax, a Disney studio. Disney seeks profit by wallowing in gore--Kill Bill opens with an entire family being graphically slaughtered for the personal amusement of the killers--and by depicting violence and murder as pleasurable sport. Disney's Miramax has been behind a significant share of Hollywood's recent violence-glorifying junk, including Scream, whose thesis was that murdering your friends and teachers is a fun way for high-school kids to get back at anyone who teases them. Scream was the favorite movie of the Columbine killers.

Set aside what it says about Hollywood that today even Disney thinks what the public needs is ever-more-graphic depictions of killing the innocent as cool amusement. Disney's CEO, Michael Eisner, is Jewish; the chief of Miramax, Harvey Weinstein, is Jewish. Yes, there are plenty of Christian and other Hollywood executives who worship money above all else, promoting for profit the adulation of violence. Does that make it right for Jewish executives to worship money above all else, by promoting for profit the adulation of violence? Recent European history alone ought to cause Jewish executives to experience second thoughts about glorifying the killing of the helpless as a fun lifestyle choice. But history is hardly the only concern. Films made in Hollywood are now shown all over the world, to audiences that may not understand the dialogue or even look at the subtitles, but can't possibly miss the message--now Disney's message--that hearing the screams of the innocent is a really fun way to express yourself.

Easterbrook has posted an Arnoldian non-apology apology today, in which he notes that he's ready to "defend all the thoughts in that paragraph," while rhetorically asking, "How could I have done such a poor job of expressing them?" (Grammatical sidelight: Don't you just hate rhetorical questions?).

His apology isn't that well-crafted either, especially the point where he says that, "Nothing about Eisner or Weinstein causes any movie to be bad or awful; they're just supervisors"--a weird inversion of the "I was only following orders" defense that proved so popular among Germans after World War II.

Regardless of whether Easterbrook harbors some unseemly, deep-seated animosity toward schlockmeisters of a particular creed, this much seems certain: He is the sort of moral scold who harbors deep rage at many aspects of the contemporary world. He is perhaps best known lately for attacking SUVs owners not simply as hopelessly misguided consumers but as sociopathic hoodlums. What's more, his critique of SUVs builds in an attack on the lower orders. Sounding like an aristocratic lord worried about upwardly mobile masses who are dressing above their stations, he says the true horror of SUVs will be visited upon us when the behemoth cruisers fall into the hands of "immigrants, the lower middle class, and the poor, who generally speed, run lights, drive drunk, and crash more often than the prosperous classes." Such fears belie a certain type of road rage, all right, but not the sort that comes from congested traffic.

Something similar is at work with his critique of violent movies, the topic that put Easterbrook in his current situation. Take his (mis)characterization of Scream, for instance. Only unbalanced types such as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold--and scolds who have no appreciation for or understanding of how audiences process fictional texts such as novels, movies, and music--would walk away from that movie believing its thesis "was that murdering your friends and teachers is a fun way for high-school kids to get back at anyone who teases them." Nut jobs don't need movies to make them kill--anymore than Mark David Chapman needed The Catcher in the Rye to shoot John Lennon. They use whatever is at hand--including, at times, the Bible--to justify their actions. To suggest otherwise is to turn popular culture into a whipping boy that masks other sorts of class and status concerns and anxieties, as cultural critic Jib Fowles pointed out in Reason.

Scream was popular--and fun--because it played with any number of known screen conventions that gave viewers pleasure (and shocks). I've argued elsewhere that Disney's ownership of Miramax is a healthy sign of cultural proliferation and the inability of any single source to dominate cultural production (recall the earlier Miramax movies that outraged folks: Kids, Priest, Pulp Fiction, etc). More important, as Gerard Jones has argued persuasively, fantasy violence often serves a healthy function. And folks such as Easterbrook who attribute bad behavior to bad taste (by their lights) in books, movies, and music are wilfully ignorant about how audiences actually consume culture.

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  • Pat Cameltoe||

    Can we cut through all the posturing and name-calling here? Gregg Easterbrook is a highly talented and respected journalist who produces huge volumes of quality journalism on a variety of topics, and has usually displayed unusually sensible skepticism and judgment.

    Yes, he is a bit of a moral scold and he does sometimes shoot from the hip.

    His Kill Bill/Jew conflation was bafflingly ill-considered and stupid. I think he knows that. His comments engaged a number of Jewish stereotypes that we'd all like to forget about. And, yes, if all you knew about Easterbrook was that blog post, you'd have a pretty good reason to think maybe there's something racist about him.

    But the guy's been in the public eye for a long time, and his record shows no other evidence at all of anti-Semitism. He works for Mary Peretz, for chrissake.

    It was a deeply stupid comment - mistake #1. He waited days and days to clarify them or even acknowledge the storm he set off - mistake #2 (this was his biggest mistake in my opinion; the New York Times is faster at issuing clarifications and corrections than this supposed blogger).

    And his eagerness to attack the aesthetic judgments of others makes him especially vulnerable - glass houses and all.

    But one mistake doesn't make him an idiot, and he's not an anti-Semite. Do y'all think you can scrape together enough basic human decency to not hang him for this? I hope the next time you all say something stupid, your listeners are more generous.

  • Pat||

    I meant Marty Peretz, not Mary of course.

  • ||

    if that guys doesn't think "resevoir dogs" was good and that "pulp fiction" was great, then he's a complete idiot and anything he says can be safely ignored.

  • ||

    I've calmed a bit, and I think I'll just say, "Yeah, what Pat said."

    I can't get over the silliness of the basis of his critiques, though ...

  • ||

    (1) SPORT UTILITY VEHICLES KILL PEOPLE

    So do cars. SUVs may be more likely to harm you in certain situations (rollovers), but cars are more likely to harm you in other situations (crashes). So what? Why not pick on cars rather than SUVs?

    2) SUVs are wasteful. The federal government regulates fuel economy, for obvious environmental and public policy reasons.

    They are not obvious to me, especially the nebulous "public policy" reasons.

    The entire SUV genre is a reaction to government mileage regulations, so in a way they are the product of the regulations you so admire.

    The fact that something is "wasteful" does not mean that it must, ipso facto, be regulated or outlawed. It just means that it is more expensive to operate. If I want to spend the extra cash to fill my SUV with gas, what business is that of yours?

  • Scrappy||

    2) SUVs are wasteful. The federal government regulates fuel economy, for obvious environmental and public policy reasons. Why do SUVs deserve an exemption?

    According to standard libertarian theory, it's not that SUVs deserve an exemption that other cars don't, but rather that things like fuel efficiency and emissions control shouldn't be regulated in the first place. Despite my general agreement with libertarianism in just about every other area, practical environmental issues are IMO where the standard libertarian approach crashes and burns.

  • ||

    It seems to me that Easterbrook is saying Jews have some special responsibility to abhor violence in movies because of the Holocaust. It seems a pretty silly and nonsensical point, but not really an anti-Semitic one.

    Actually, this is a classically anti-Semitic trope, common to many kinds of racism and bigotry. Effectively, what Easterbrook is saying is that Jews should be singled out for special criticism, because they are Jews. Kind of like saying that a Jew who is successful in business should have his windows broken and his assets confiscated, because he is a Jew, when all his gential neighbors are left alone.

    Any double standard is the quick road to hell, folks, whether you claim that the other guy is subhuman or should be held to higher standards than you and your friends.

  • Tim Cavanaugh||

    But one mistake doesn't make him an idiot, and he's not an anti-Semite. Do y'all think you can scrape together enough basic human decency to not hang him for this? I hope the next time you all say something stupid, your listeners are more generous.

    Not a single person on this thread has said he's an anti-Semite. By my reading, everybody who has even dealt with this point has exonerated him. It's the only thing (other than the awesomeness of Kill Bill) that everybody seems to agree on. You're carrying coals to Newcastle.

    And fuck Mary Peretz, that cooze.

  • Pat Cameltoe||

    RC Dean -

    You're really flying off the handle. I actually agree with you that Easterbrook's brain should have gone off when he started down the path of prescribing special traits for different races. That's dangerous and stupid. I'm WASP-y atheist, but would it be any LESS wrong for me to glorify murder? No. So it follows it's no MORE wrong for Jews to do it.

    So it was a dumb comment. But I'm sure, Dean, you can see where he's coming from and that his motivation is not anti-Semitism. For you to compare his comment to krystallnacht (sp?) is obscene and crude. Where's your brain?

  • Tim Cavanaugh||

    R.C. Dean posted before I got done. I stand corrected...

  • Pat Cameltoe||

    Tim - well I guess you're right. The Hit & Run crowd is in a forgiving mood today. I guess I had in mind about 37 other blogs where they're ready to draw and quarter him.

    But I am right ex post facto (see: RC Dean).

  • ||

    I don't buy Dean's "trope." Alluding to a "special responsibilty" -- or special duty -- does not, in my mind, equate to either a "double standard" or a "special criticism."

    In my own completely unscientific opinion, the first appeals to higher ideals that we should ostensibly hold, while a double standard unjustly forgives bad behavior. I don't think it was Easterbrook's intention to criminalize anyone, but rather to express disappointment. In my mind, it comes down to "responsibilty for some act" vs. "responsibilty to some community."

    Also, was Easterbrook any more lenient on producers of other creeds? It didn't seem that way when I read the column, although he mentions them less. It seems to me that the absence of harsher criticism of others does not necessarily imply "special criticism" of Jewish producers.

    And would a Jewish writer been excorciated for expressing the same concerns? It's something to consider.

    That being said, there are a number of indefensible sentiments being expressed. For one, you could substitute any aggrieved ethnic group into Easterbrook's column and come up with the same problem -- the blundering and inapplicable use of past historical grievances to muddle issues currently before us.

  • Jean Bart||

    Obviously Easterbrook has never read either the Old Testament or Homer's _Odyssey_.

  • David Moynihan||

    C'mon if you see Kill Biil, in addition to the animated scene, there's a point during Uma's big samurai fight where it all goes black 'n white and she's got a Toshiro Mifune grimace. At another point, she's looking like Miyamoto Mushashi.

    The only thing this flick inspires ya to do is go out after and chomp down udon and tempura.

    Sheesh.

    Oh, and as far as football, Gregg picked the Ravens to go 6-10, the Browns to repeat as wildcards, and the Steelers to run away with the division.

    He's apologizing now by giving Jamal Lewis' rushing stats each week, but we remember.

  • ||

    Kill Bill inspired me to treasure my collection of legal and bootleg VHS and DVD version of the movies that make up Kill Bill.

  • joe||

    Easterbrook didn't claim that SUV buyers were sociopathic hoodlums. He claimed that SUV sellers base their vehicles designs and marketing efforts around appeals to certain less-than-admirable human traits. He makes this claim based on internal research by manufacturers that characterizes SUV drivers as aggressive, insecure, etc etc etc. Not Easterbrooks characterizations, but those of the industry. If you want to slag somebody for talking shit about SUV buyers, Gillespie, why not slag the large, wealthy corporations that actually did so?

    Yeah, right.

    Though your characterization of his "lower orders" worry is spot on.

  • ||

    When Easterbrook says SUVs are dangerous, he is not referring to the danger they pose to their drivers. He is referring to the danger they pose to *other* drivers, people in smaller cars -- accidents between SUVs and non-SUVs are much more dangerous for the non-SUV driver than a similar accident would be to either driver in an accident involving no SUVs.

  • Kevin Carson||

    eunuch,

    Instead of the government promoting "efficiency" through regulations, seems to me it would make a lot more sense to get it out of the business of guaranteeing cheap gas to the consumer, and then let people drive a Hummer or whatever--just so long as they're willing to pay all the costs with their own money.

  • ||

    Egad. Though I enjoy his work for ESPN.com tremendously, with the, to me, silly SUV arguments he had advanced previously I knew to stay away from the Easterblog.

    It is worse than I imagined. What sort of one dimensional thought process leads one to conclude that Pulp Fiction's acclaim was due to getting Bruce Willis to debase himself? I'm not entirely sure I understand the comment, considering the second Die Hard movie, but the directing in that movie was highly innovative, even if you didn't like the results.

    I'm reminded of a conversation I had with a far right leaning friend of my wife about Faulkner. I was simply making the case that while I don't enjoy the dirty feeling I get from reading Faulkner, the guy could string words together. I thought this was a fairly uncontroversial claim until said rightie lambasted me for the next hour about the decline of Christian values.

    Sometimes it only takes a small window to see quite a bit about a person.

  • Skip Oliva||

    Another of Easterbrook's fanatical crusades is his call for Congress to take away the NFL's right to sell its own broadcasting rights. Easterbrook objects to the NFL's exclusive license of its "Sunday Ticket" package to DirecTV. Easterbrook, as a football fan, belives that he's morally entitled to watch whatever NFL game he wants without becoming a DirecTV subscriber. His only justification is that since some NFL teams take local tax revenue for building stadiums (admittedly an egregious practice), the NFL's profits are "public" property subject to government dispensation.

  • Todd Fletcher||

    Also, the violence in Kill Bill is very cartoony(literally at one point) - it has no reality to it at all. I felt as much horror at it as I did watching John Cleese's hands get chopped off in Monty Python's Peckinpah parody.

  • Rocco||

    "I felt as much horror at it as I did watching John Cleese's hands get chopped off in Monty Python's Peckinpah parody"

    I know what you mean. I still have nightmares about that.

  • ||

    If you read enough of Easterbrook's stuff on ESPN.com, you eventually figure out that he really doesn't know that much about sports, either. At least not nearly as much as he thinks he does.

  • Jesse Walker||

    I felt as much horror at it as I did watching John Cleese's hands get chopped off in Monty Python's Peckinpah parody.

    At one point in Kill Bill, I started to wonder whether the whole movie was an homage to that parody...

  • dhex||

    i thought kill bill was one of the most entertaining movies i've seen in a very long time, and i was sure it was going to suck.

    i look forward to volume 2.

  • Xmas||

    Well, I have to disagree. _Kill Bill_ was a great kung fu movie. The hyperkinetic, over-the-top violence was just part of the fun. It pushes the boundaries of good taste, but I wouldn't go so far as to call it trash.

    The big fight in _Kill Bill_ is a lot less shocking than the first 10 minutes of _Saving Private Ryan_ and it's violent humor is obviously along the same vein as the "Black Knight" scene in _Monty Python and the Holy Grail_. As for the rest of the movie, while violent, is definitely more redeeming that say, _House of a 1000 Corpses_ or even _Serial Mom_.

    As for the film student jab, I suggest you watch some art films and come back and report on those.

  • David||

    Don't y'all think there should be some evidence of intent when accusing people of anti-semitism or other thought crimes?

  • ||

    David - I've always thought that "thought crimes" should not really be crimes to begin with. But I suppose that thinking in such a manner probably makes me a thought criminal.

  • thoreau||

    The above post by Nick Gillespie is so long it should almost be an article rather than an item in H&R. Not complaining, just observing.

  • Tim Cavanaugh||

    Don't y'all think there should be some evidence of intent when accusing people of anti-semitism or other thought crimes?

    Yes, and this should be everybody's standard. Beinart should have been more forceful in his defense of him, because it's clear he was just trying to make a shabby and half-baked pogrom/holocaust allusion. (That is what he should be getting roasted for.)

    However, there is something a little weird when somebody brings in the topic of Judaism out of left field like this. Whatever your intent in changing the topic in this way, it indicates a certain, well, mindset. I don't think it indicates anti-semitism necessarily (and I definitely don't think so in Easterbrook's case), but it's just off-topic enough to cause suspicion. And in the hurly-burly of an anti-defamation industry where players exist because they accuse, just a hint of a suspicion is usually enough for a good character assassination. Not that Easterbrook doesn't deserve a swift kick or three, but as Nick indicated, he deserves them for other reasons.

    Now on to more important matters: Is Kill Bill really any good? It just looks so poor in every preview I've seen, and hearing that any movie features an anime entr'acte is enough to make me keep my nine bucks in my pocket.

  • ||

    Easterbrook: "Of mangling words, I am guilty."

    As well, speaking like Yoda, he is guilty of.

    HOWEVER.

    Gillepsie is spazzing. That's a lot of invective to throw at an apology which seems heartfelt and meaningful, if a little purple in prose. Come on, now:

    "... a weird inversion of the "I was only following orders" defense that proved so popular among Germans after World War II."

    Are we ready to reconvene Nuremberg, or is it premature? He may be guilty of carelessness, poor judgment and lack of originality, but he's no crypto-Nazi. Let's not confuse Dumb with Evil.

    As for using "I think" as a club to whack Easterbrook, I interpret it as a bit of rhetorical Cover Your Ass manuvering that comes when living in the Age of Spin. It's cowardly, but it's not an damning indictment of Easterbrook's character.

    Gillespie does score a palpable hit concerning much of Easterbrook's original column. Easterbrook's take on "Scream" makes it seem like he wasn't even in the same room when it was showing. Although it was filmed as a bloated monument to Ego, "Kill Bill" isn't more morally vacuous than any other revenge story.

    I've read Hit and Run since the inception, and there's been a lot less outrage directed at much more outrageous things. I think -- curse that word, eh, Nick? -- that someone, somewhere, has an axe to grind.

  • ||

    I haven't seen it, but it gets 83% Fresh Tomatoes: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/KillBillVol1-1126182/

    I think it is probably a flick you have to be in the right mindset to enjoy, like most of Peter Jackson's work prior to LOTR.

  • Franklin Harris||

    Evidently I'm not as worked up about this as everyone else in the media is. It seems to me that Easterbrook is saying Jews have some special responsibility to abhor violence in movies because of the Holocaust. It seems a pretty silly and nonsensical point, but not really an anti-Semitic one. I'm more offended by Easterbrook's belief that he is competent to review films.

  • rst||

    Don't y'all think there should be some evidence of intent when accusing people of anti-semitism or other thought crimes?

    There shouldn't be thought crimes, period. "Anti-semitism" has become a finger-pointing exercise for a bunch of weak-minded limpwrists to shout "j'accuse!!!" The allegation that Jews control Hollywood is not new and it wasn't invented by Easterbrook. Nobody's disproved it any more than they've proven it, there is merely a large stigma attached to entertaining it. "Oh no, the poor Jews."

    What Easterbrook really misses is that the viewer chooses with whom they identify when watching a film. Easterbrook takes over-the-top, visceral cinematography as glorification of violence, but he's presuming a specific intent. Not too unlike presuming Easterbrook is a skinhead, when he's really just a moron.

  • Jesse Walker||

    Tim: I enjoyed it. It's no Pulp Fiction or Jackie Brown, but it's consistently entertaining from start to finish. Roger Ebert called it "all storytelling and no story," and I think that's exactly right. (And, in that sense, the absence of a conclusion only makes it more pure.)

    And Tarantino's pulled off something sneaky here. A lot of movies in this vein strain for grandiosity and wind up looking kind of ridiculous. Kill Bill winks at you so relentlessly, from epigraph to final line, that you're primed from the beginning to treat it as ridiculous -- but then somehow manages to slip in a certain grandeur through the side door.

    I'm also pleased to see that somone could make a movie so chock full of both violence and self-referential irony in these post-9/11 days. Quentin Tarantino: living in the '90s and proud of it.

  • eunuch||

    hmmm.

    I enjoy practically everything that Easterbrook writes, as well as practically everything that Gillespie writes. They are obviously both gifted writers who have worthwhile perspectives on a lot of things.

    I just don't understand why there is so much animosity on Nick's part whenever the general subject of Gregg comes up. I don't think that Nick is this upset that Gregg is a moral scold, because there are a lot of those, and he doesn't use so much space in Reason and H&R to write about them. I have to wonder, as a nameless contributor above wondered, whether Nick just has an axe to grind.

    As for the substance of the issues at hand, I have not seen Kill Bill. Several people I know who have think it is the bee's knees, so I may just go see it this weekend. As to the issue of violence of movies, it doesn't really bother me, and I don't think Easterbrook is wrong about the issue. You see, he is only making two points:

    1) He thinks violent movies are tasteless. This is obviously an opinion, and he is entitled to it. Who cares?

    2) He has said, several times, that he does not think it is dangerous for adults to watch violent movies, but that he does not think children should. This opinion is shared by many people, is reflected in the MPAA rating system, and is corroborated by peer-reviewed research, which Easterbrook cites. Why, exactly, is this the position of a "moral scold"?

    On a tangent, Nick, you need to rethink part of your position on SUVs. I tend to agree that Easterbrook takes the invective a little too far when he writes about them, but he has two points that I have not seen you deal with:

    1) SPORT UTILITY VEHICLES KILL PEOPLE

    Whether these vehicles are "antisocial" or not, they are dangerous. This is admitted even by the manufacturers. The government should hold these vehicles to the same safety standards as other passenger cars, and they don't.

    2) SUVs are wasteful. The federal government regulates fuel economy, for obvious environmental and public policy reasons. Why do SUVs deserve an exemption?

  • ||

    The news that movies don't lead their viewers to indulge in bad thoughts and acts should come as a relief to *Reason* contributor Cathy Young. She expressed concern about the deleterious influence of film in an August 19, 2003 article about Mel Gibson's upcoming flick:

    "In recent years, Christians and Jews have worked together to rid passion plays of anti-Semitism. Some worry that after decades of progress, Gibson's movie [The Passion] could be a throwback to the old prejudices. . . .

    ". . . Gibson hasn't helped his case by limiting the preview screenings almost entirely to friendly audiences of political, cultural, and religious conservatives while denying access to critics, including such respected groups as the Anti-Defamation League. When a representative of the league finally saw the film last week, he stated that in its present form it was likely to fuel hatred and bigotry. Of particular concern is the reaction in countries where such bigotry is already a major problem -- including the Arab world."

    Now I suppose Cathy Young will retract these aristocratic sentiments about the susceptibility of the lower orders to movie gore.

  • ||

    Yes, because all Reason contributors have to agree about every issue. And because there's no difference between saying movies can have an influence and saying audiences are powerless before them. And because when Cathy Young quotes somebody saying a movie can have a bad influence, what she really means is that she thinks it will have a bad influence.

    I'm sure a retraction is on the way!

  • ||

    "1) SPORT UTILITY VEHICLES KILL PEOPLE

    Whether these vehicles are "antisocial" or not, they are dangerous. This is admitted even by the manufacturers. The government should hold these vehicles to the same safety standards as other passenger cars, and they don't."

    Interesting. I would think that if we were going to regulate ourselves out of the differences between an Explorer and an Accent, we should start with the obviously inferior physical characteristics of the smaller car. If those cars were more massive, they would hold up better in collisions with more inertially gifted automobiles. To stop the killing of people by suvs, we should probably lower them. The answer is clearly a 2.5 ton Accent that rides .5 inches off of the ground. Who could find complaint with that?

  • ||

    "2) SUVs are wasteful. The federal government regulates fuel economy, for obvious environmental and public policy reasons. Why do SUVs deserve an exemption?"

    Wasteful when compared to what? Camping with the kids in a subcompact is not what I would call efficient. Clearly, there are many things that light truck chassis can do that subcompact chassis can't. What you really mean when you say wasteful, is that people who choose the advantages of a larger framed vehicle don't agree with your criteria for waste.

    The 'exception' is that it seems kind of silly in light of first year physics to hold a vehicle with twice the body weight to the same mileage standard when the cost for extra gas is already being paid by the owner.

  • ||

    It's pathetic how desperate some people are to find lame excuses to call people anti-semites.

  • ||

    It's funny how liberals talk about "violence" in the abstract as if it were an intrisically bad thing. In practice even liberals see violens as positive when it is used appropriately, as in storming Waco or snatching little Elian.

  • ||

    One more thought. I am also puzzled at why anyone thinks Easterbrook's inane rant is worth all this attention.

  • ||

    i love blogs. You guys are all inspirational. I don't care WHAT you argue about - its fascinating!!!! Thank you for thinking.

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