Kill Bill Fallout

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New Republic blogger Gregg Easterbrook, whose anti-semitic comments included in his slam of Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill caused a media shitstorm last week, has been canned from ESPN.com as a result. Details here at yourish.com.

Former Reason Intern and current Los Angeles Business Journal staffer RiShawn Biddle has suggested that Easterbrook's dismissal from ESPN.com something to do with attacking Disney (the owner of Miramax, which released Kill Bill, and ESPN).

I had the misfortune of seeing Kill Bill over the weekend. As many of the commenters to this blog noted last week, it's amazing that anyone could have been so righteously offended by the cartoonish, stylized violence of the movie (it's also staggering that anyone would see that movie and then start talking about Jews). What Easterbrook called "filth" is in fact boring and tedious–it's a shame no one at Miramax had the cojones to edit the two volumes of Kill Bill into one good, two-hour flick instead of letting it run as two over-long, slow-moving segments (think of it as a mediocre double album that might have made a fun, peppy single album). But in the disturbing violence category, Kill Bill doesn't even rise to the level of Reservoir Dogs (where the violence was especially menacing and uncomfortable) or Pulp Fiction, both of which are not uncoincidentally far more interesting movies. (I'd also place Jackie Brown) far ahead of Kill Bill in terms of being a well-wrought urn).

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  1. Re: when you believe in things you don’t understand

    I always thought that was an odd line. I believe in lots of things I don’t understand! I imagine I could learn to understand how a computer works given enough time and devotion to the matter, but at the moment, it’s pure magic to me, yet that doesn’t stop me from believing in it!!

  2. Re: the anti-semetic queation.

    Having just read Easterbrook’s screed, I find myself considering that this could have just as easily been written by a Jew, and I wonder how it might have been received differently if it had. Still, I think it’s, um, let’s say “out of bounds” as Tiger Woods described that other golfer’s joke about southern foods, and I would also add the words “warped” and “ridiculous” and “plain stupid.” Seems like it might have been the result of his working himself into a frenzied snit throughout the article. Serves him right for getting so upset over pretty much nothing.

  3. fyodor,

    Well, you do understand how computers work in a minimal fashion – you understand that they are not really magical items and use the basic laws of physics, etc. to their advantage; I think Stevie is just criticizing those who blindly believe.

  4. I think Nick hits on a theory I’ve had with some of the commenters who don’t like Kill Bill and wish it was more like R Dogs.

    R Dogs and Jackie Brown are Tarantino’s most realistic films. They are easier to “buy into” because they represent an interesting story in a familiar world.

    Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill have very little basis in reality. Pulp Fiction may have had an upper hand in gaining popularity with its celebration of pop culture, and perhaps that is what some are missing in KB. KB also seems to be going a bit further into the surreal, at times feeling like something from David Lynch.

    All of this really comes down to one thing – a movie’s artistic value is not based on entertainment value.

  5. R.C. Dean,

    The “noble savage” concept was an 18th century device (think Rousseau); and it generally was used as a means to scold Europeans for being too damn soft and corrupt. Man in nature as the “Indians” were wasn’t as corrupted, etc.; and example of how Europeans could look upon the New World as a means of moral and material salvation.

    I think what you are trying to describe is what Kipling stated as the “White Man’s Burden” or how it is described today: the “civilizing mission.” Of course most people never read the poem, and thus they tend to miss Kipling’s criticism of this notion.

    The biggest joke about the gender issue was that impoverished women were, despite their supposedly delicate conditions, quite adept at working twelve hours at such tasks as chicken plucking (a nasty job). Upper and middle class prohibitions against women working were more of an issue of social control than anything – controlling the future make-up of those classes (making sure undesirables don’t screw their daughters). Such methodologies of control always breakdown in the long-run however. In literature a perfect example of this can be found in Edith Wharton’s “Age of Innocence.”

  6. oops, that was me @ October 20, 2003 01:25 PM

  7. I largely enjoyed Pulp Fiction because it ticked off so many in the chattering classes. People from the range of the political spectrum wrote vehemently about Pulp Fiction as an affront to aesthetics, morality, etc., and I loved watching them squirm.

  8. well worded, Jean. Is there anything Stevie doesn’t “blindly” believe?

    RC, double-standards are racist, and they are destructive to both the group they describe and the society which holds them. But the fact remains — to describe what Easterbrook said as “anti-semitic” is to misinterpret the word.

    And, furthermore, calling my statement a “dodge often used by racists” is a guilt-by-association falacy.

  9. Anyone have an opinion about the films Tarantino wrote a screenplay for, but didn’t direct?

    I’m thinking of True Romance and Natural Born Killers.

  10. Natural Born Killers was rather boring; it was a blaise indictment of American media, etc.

    As to True Romance, that was a very fun movie.

  11. JB,

    I found NBK to be an almost physically distressing movie, though you are spot-on about how blase it was. I have a lot of trouble working up any enthusiasm to see another Stone film after sitting in a theater and having NBK inflicted upon me.

  12. Oliver Stone is too fond of platitudes. Most of his films end with them. “Platoon” was this way, when Charlie Sheen spouts off his monologue at the end of the movie with Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” playing in the background.

  13. And yet it worked for Platoon.

    Maybe Oliver Stone would have found his true calling as a glorified hack writer — his “Conan” screenplay still ranks as one of the best A/B-hybrid film efforts in years.

  14. I hated the end of “Platoon;” I thought it ruined the movie.

  15. It’s been years since I originally saw it in the theater, so my memory of it isn’t terribly clear.

  16. c – I wasn’t including you when I used the term “dodge”. I merely meant to indicate that bona fide racists have been quite comfortable with it.

    Jean Bart – the white man’s burden was definitely part of the colonial mindset, but the noble savage trope was often layered in as well.

    Really, what Easterbrook was saying was that it is especially bad for Jews to do X. How is it not bigotry to single out a group for special condemnation? “There are plenty of WASPs profiting from violent movies, but boy, when the Jews start to get involved, that really pisses me off.”

  17. the intent of his use, no matter how silly i think it is, hardly seems hateful or even remotely bigoted. sort of like saying that a rape victim should be especially sensitive to rape.

    if anything, i think it’s silly because it assumes that somehow jews have a special relationship to violence that no other ethnic or religious group could possibly understand, which is obviously stupid. an outgrowth of the “our holocaust was the only holocaust ever” routine perhaps.

  18. Are you going to tell me that two wrongs now make a right? 🙂

    No, I’m going to tell you that it’s fair game to theorize on and even make outright ridiculous accusations against the religious machines and attitudes which run our planet (and yes, Judaism is a big one) without being labeled an “anti-semite”, just as it’s fair to do the same to the reigning political bodies that run our country (“Bush lies, people die”) without being labeled a traitor. “Anti-semite” carries the same shallow gravitas as “anti-American”…lately it doesn’t mean anything more than offending the sensibilities of semitic peoples (the former) or staunch, right-leaning patriots (the latter). Unfortunately, Easterbrook offended the sensibilities of his boss. Beyond that, the story doesn’t have any compelling cultural impact. Easterbrook speaks for himself, you can take it or leave it, but you haven’t any idea about what motivated him to say what he said. You have theories and/or outright ridiculous accusations. And you entertain them, as it is your right to do.

  19. RC: You’re right, it is unfair for Easterbrook to hold these men to a higher standard, especially since we only seem to hear about this higher standard when it comes time to knock them for failing to live up to it. But perversely this judgement springs from his obvious and genuine respect for the historical and present suffering of the Jews. This sentiment is anathema to anti-semitism. The word “anti-semitism” means something else.

    Worth noting, the editors of TNR (who are not typically called anti-semites) have posted a defense of Easterbrook.

  20. rst, it’s one thing to say people fling about “anti-Semite” or anti-American” too easily, but quite another to say since we can’t read minds we can never make these accusations.

    When people are doing something you hate and you blame them as Jews and not individuals, when you believe that Jews are acting in concert to knowingly hurt society, when you invoke the classic stereotype that Jews love money so much they don’t care if they’re destroying people, then it’s hardly unfair if others suspect you’re an anti-Semite.

    But let’s talk about something more important. Pulp Fiction is by far Tarantino’s best film. I don’t know if there’s been a better film released in the past ten years. Reservoir Dogs is quite good, but can be seen as a low-budget rehearsal for Pulp Fiction.

    By the way, while Tarantino’s scripts for True Romance and From Dusk Til Dawn pretty much survived intact, he was so disgusted at the changes in Natural Born Killers that he has disavowed the final result.

  21. we can’t read minds we can never make these accusations.

    Not that mind-reading is necessary, but that the same standards should be applied when railing against Jews as are applied when railing against WASPs. There are no buzzwords in our language for the latter – the slight of mind call it “reverse racism” or “reverse discrimination” – and the media for its part doesn’t care enough to give the sentiment much airtime beyond that to which we are already sufficiently anaesthetized. But when you say something about a group that is not WASP, then all of the sudden you’ve made some significant faux pas that you wouldn’t have been making had you been making fun of white people like you’re supposed to.

    when you invoke the classic stereotype that Jews love money so much they don’t care if they’re destroying people

    Nobody cares about this when hardcore capitalists get knocked with the same stereotype. Add an omnipotent invisible man into the mix and all of the sudden you’ve got a philosophy to be protected from critique? A stereotype is a presumption based on the observation of some sample space (have you seen that Queer Eye show?). To extend said observations to all Jews is wrong. To extend them to a group of Jews is statistically indeterminate. You can’t say that Easterbrook was wrong in applying said stereotype to Eisner – he might just be a stereotypical Jew, or he might not.

    Not to say that antisemitism in its classic forms does not persist, of course it does. What I am saying is that the philosophy, like any other, is open for accusation and dissent on the grounds not only of its basic tenets, but its following and applications as well. There is nothing wrong with stereotypes on their own. They become wrong when you apply them to a far greater sample space than they could possibly or reasonably represent.

  22. his statements were impolitic, impolite, and outside the bounds of discourse. using double standards is wrong and bigoted…

    the issue that I and many others had (virginia postrel…) was with the use of money grubbing + jews + hollywood… now look at dr mahathir’s solliloquy, islamic jihad propaganda, and osama’s last tape… they’re all using the same themes…

    now you don’t get and keep a job at tnr (or working for mike kinsley) or be part of a synagogue/church by being an anti-semite… but apparently you can be such an incompetent writer that you use the oldest slurs against jews (well except for killing babies and drinking their blood at passover) and then don’t take it down for 2 days, despite people with massive circulations screaming obscenities due to what you wrote

    he’s incompetent (it’s a blog, it can be fixed rather quickly) and uses words poorly (don’t use “money-grubbing jews” in any piece of writing or in conversation) and he lost hi job… and he also attacked a wide variety of his bosses in print, in public, and drug their ethnicity into it (saying your boss is a dumb irish mick who should be aware of the problems of crop failures would get you turfed… and probably beaten if in Boston or NYC)

  23. Nick,

    Regarding Miramax’s lack of cajones, Tarantino delivered a 3-hour movie and didn’t want to cut it (which he should have known better, Miramax would cut The Godfather to 90 minutes if they could). Miramax wanted to cut it under 2-hours, and the compromise was to release in 2 parts, which means… double the box office!

    I’ll do what my dad used to do, wait for the tape and then fast-forward through the boring parts.

  24. I equate Easterbrook’s comments with those of Maureen Dowd talking about how horrible it is for Clarence Thomas to oppose affirmative action because, well, because he’s black! And black people, of all people, should know how wrong it is to oppose affirmative action!

    The ESPN firing was pretty funny, though. ESPN of all entities claiming the moral high ground …

  25. Curt, Dowd didn’t slag Thomas’s AA position because of his race, but because he was an affirmative action admission himself.

  26. ok, maybe i’m a total asshole, but i still don’t see it. it was stupid and ill-thought perhaps, but i didn’t see “they’re greedy because they’re jewish” in there anywhere.

    more like “they should be less eager to capitalize on ficticious murder because they’re jewish.” still stupid, but hardly scream-worthy.

  27. Curt, Dowd didn’t slag Thomas’s AA position because of his race, but because he was an affirmative action admission himself.

    Except, of course, that Thomas attended college before any affirmative action programs were implemented. Oops.

  28. How many nuanced “homage” films are we gonna get from Tarantino? I wish he would do a comedy or a suspense thriller or a new take on a drama…maybe he’s too much of a “fanboy” and wants to make tributes to the 35 genres he watched over and over in the video store.

    To me, that’s like asking “how many movies about violent Italians is Martin Scorsese going to make?”. I’m more concerned about Martin’s non-violent-Italian movies, which almost uniformly suck (“After Hours” and “King of Comedy” excepted). The same goes for James Cameron and sci-fi action movies, or Hayao Miyazaki and animated films.

    I’m not going to worry about Tarantino’s genre or topic choices until I no longer enjoy the movies he makes. Personally, I thought “Kill Bill” was brilliantly entertaining, and I imagine it will be joining the rest of his films in my DVD collection.

  29. KB was a little slow at the start and finished strong. this might be an instance where the second part is better than the first since the action will pick up were it left off. i thoght Pulp was better though. after all it has one of the great lines of all time “who’s zed” “zed is dead honey, zed is dead”.
    btw, anyone notice the advert for “red apple” cigerettes in KB?

  30. I think you folks really missed the point on Kill Bill. If you had any knowledge of the history of martial arts films, you would see an entirely different picture. There is a documentary on cable called “Marial Arts in the Movies” with Samuel L. Jackson. (it is on the TRUE channel on DirecTV). It gives a very complete history of the art form. After seeing this documentary and seeing Kill Bill, I have a much greater appreciation for KB. Also, what kind of soulless automaton didn’t audibly gasp when Bill mentioned The Bride’s child at the end? This was great film making by a true artist.

  31. anon at 6:44.
    Thanks for blowing it for me.

  32. Three of my posts are missing.

    One was about Clarence Thomas. One was about Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden”. One was about “anti-semitism”.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the last one crossed someone’s censorship line – though I would be a little surprised for it to happen here. But the other two were perfectly ordinary. It’s not like criticizing affirmative action, or imperialism, is going to outrage many libertarians.

    Is this some technical glitch? Or am I to be banned from Hit and Run for alleged anti-semitism?

    Apologies if I’m just being paranoid.

  33. Ah, thank you for saying what so few will — regardless of the controversy over Tarantino’s films, no one takes the time to note that each one since Reservior Dogs has been successively less impressive.

  34. I liked Pulp Fiction better than Reservoir Dogs. It struck me as a more complete and polished version of the Tarantino vision. Blaspheme, I know.

    Here is my question about Kill Bill. The intntionally corny dialogue was delivered in what seemed to me to be a very stilted manner by nearly everyone. Was this just bad acting, or was it more of a Brechtian trick to call our attention to the form and away from the contents?

    I’m not sure if I am giving him too much credit, but I saw it as a movie about archetypes and about movies. Even with that, I’m not sure how much I liked it. Still thinking, which is more than I can say about most flicks I see these days.

  35. They’ve probably been less impressive because the style wears on you and/or wears you out after repeated viewings.

    Biddle’s observation is not groundbreaking; between the “shock and awe” thin-skinned people still express over “anti-Semitism,” (and to be an anti-semite, all you need do is not jump on the let’s-bash-on-Easterbrook bandwagon, or perhaps claim Woody Allen movies suck) and the fact that Easterbrook was going after the Jewiness of the man who ultimately signs his paycheck for ESPN, the man has no one to blame but himself.

  36. And let’s not forget how fresh they are from Limbaugh. This sort of “bad speech” endangers their “image”.

  37. RST:

    Yup. If I were to take out a full page ad in the NY Times criticising my boss, I’m not sure I would do so with the expectation of returning to my desk tomorrow.

  38. Reservoir Dogs is good enough to be adapted for the stage.

  39. joe:

    I’m seeing a Jets and Sharks fight in a warehouse with limbs littering the stage …

  40. I re-watched Pulp Fiction recently and was suprised by how much I thought it s*cked. I dug the movie when if first came out, but I found it simply boring, and hackneyed, with stiled diaglogue, on repeat. It is not a movie that ages well. No doubt in part to how much it has been copied. But still

  41. Where can I find his Tuesday Morning Quaterback now? Damn!

    Pulp Fiction doesn’t age well beacuse it’s smarter than its creator is intelligent.

  42. …while Reservoir Dogs gets better with repeated viewings.

  43. i gotta say you’re all nuts. kill bill is the best thing he’s done from an entertainment point of view. sort of a hyperactive, pothead amalgamation of all my favorite will-to-power revenge flicks and samurai movies all in one.

    jackie brown was a great film, if a bit too long. but it was a good film – this is a great movie.

    what was anti-jewish about esterbrook’s comments again?

  44. Would it be considered kicking a man while he’s down to write in a belated naming suggestion for his blog(g)?

    “Enough Rope to Hang Myself.”

  45. When I think of Gregg Easterbrook, why does the song “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder come to mind.

    Maybe its the following lyric: ~when you believe in things you don’t understand….~

  46. I find it ironic that the last comment in the previous thread regarding Easterbrook puzzled over why so much fuss was made over his comments.

    Well, there you go. We deliver.

    I still take issue with Gillespie’s characterization of the original columns as “anti-Semetic,” and still maintain that he has an axe to grind against Easterbrook.

  47. Re: KB…How many nuanced “homage” films are we gonna get from Tarantino? I wish he would do a comedy or a suspense thriller or a new take on a drama…maybe he’s too much of a “fanboy” and wants to make tributes to the 35 genres he watched over and over in the video store. A shame.

    That being said, RD is one of the 10 best films of the last 1/2 of the 20th century.

  48. How can it be anything but anti-semetic? What exactly does Eisner’s Jewishness have to do with the subject at hand? Nothing as far as I can tell, yet Easterbrook went out of his way to bring the subject up. And that he puts to two terms “Jew” and “greedy” together is even more suspicious.

    Does this mean that Easterbrook is anti-semetic in every element of his life (in for a penny, in for a pound)? That is unknown, but in this particular instance he is.

  49. when you believe in things you don’t understand…

    How cheap. That’s the phenomenon of human knowledge…almost everyone believes in gravity and the number pi, but far fewer understand either (or even better, how they’re related). Is there some objective truth to be observed in expressing one’s opinions about the dominance of one culture above another? Why is it permissible to express disdain over the societal/cultural/economic dominance of the white land-owning Christian male in colonial America, but to even suggest that the Jews control anything is evil and anti-Semitic, or “superstition”? I’m sure the notion that white America ran the show was “superstitious” for a while, too.

  50. Maybe Tarantino gratified his lust for violence while in Israel:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/low/entertainment/showbiz/3128494.stm

    Oops. Shouldn’t have said that.

  51. Hey, Nick: Am I remembering wrong? I thought you didn’t care for Pulp Fiction.

  52. rst,

    I enjoyed the red herring; thanks, it was tasty. 🙂

    Are you going to tell me that two wrongs now make a right? 🙂 You didn’t learn much in the lycee I see.

  53. when I first read the blog, it sounded to me as if Easterbrook was holding the heads of the studio to a *higher* moral standard, because of their jewish-ness and therefore their presumed cultural experience as victims of violence. That’s unfair, to be sure, but is it really anti-semitic?

    I’d be more inclined to say it’s anti-everbody-else. Is he saying that he doesn’t expect me (non-jew) to be capable of recognizing the immorality of violence?

    That said, what he wrote was pure grade-A dumb, and anyone who has spent the time and mental energy observing culture that he has should have known the kind of thin ice he was on.

  54. Two quick comments:

    Jesse,

    I liked Pulp Fiction OK, though I don’t think it’s Tarantino’s best. I didn’t think it was as good as Reservoir Dogs, which effectively closed out the gangster genre for me. And I didn’t enjoy it as much as Jackie Brown, which I thought was very good, if not as original as Reservoir Dogs.

    And to the anonymous poster who wonders how I could have described Easterbrook’s comments as anti-semitic and asks whether I’ve got an axe to grind on the guy: No axe to grind, other than that a general dislike for scolds who translate their personal likes and dislikes into general theories of moral superiority, which is what I believe Easterbrook did with SUVs, the only other time I believe I’ve referenced him. He also is doing something similar with violent movies. As for the question of whether he’s an anti-semite: I was talking about his written comments, which clearly are anti-semitic.

  55. Nick,

    While I wholeheartedly agree with you on the merited scold-bonking, I also think there’s been more than enough commentary, on this thread and the previous one, to keep the “anti-semetic” claim open to debate.

  56. I don’t know if Eisner and Weinstein are observant Jews, but if they are, part of Easterbrook’s critique was about that, and when i first read Easterbrook’s comments, I thought he implied that. His church is also a synagogue, and I bet he was thinking of “Jews” in the religious sense.

    I half-thought that he wanted to call some christians hypocrites for putting this (alleged) crap out and kept with the idea even though those responsible are Jewish.

    His saying that members of groups who have been persecuted should be more sensitive to selling violence was a bit of a stretch, but Easterbrook’s always trying to hold people to higher moral standards.

    I hope someone picks up TMQ soon. 24 hours before I start freaking out. Last night I dreamt he got picked up by CBS Sportsline. (Yes this really effected me, around the level of Andrew Sullivan quitting down his blog. Maybe I’m pathetic, but TMQ is one of my joys of fall.)

  57. when I first read the blog, it sounded to me as if Easterbrook was holding the heads of the studio to a *higher* moral standard, because of their jewish-ness and therefore their presumed cultural experience as victims of violence. That’s unfair, to be sure, but is it really anti-semitic?

    This is a dodge often used by racists. The colonialists of the 19th century went on and on about the “noble savage,” for example. For that matter, women were put on a pedestal, and not coincidentally barred from professions like law and medicine because their natures were too pure. You can see echoes of this in the kind of “diversity” bs emanating from many American institutions as well.

    Double standards are racist. Period.

  58. Nice save. But why use “admission” instead of “appointment”?

    There has always been an element of political balancing in Supreme Court appointments. In the 19th century it was regional. Today it is ethnic, for good reason.

    I would argue that this is not “affirmative action”, even when it happens to favor a previously disfranchised group. Rather, it is recognizing that ethnic origin may sometimes be part of the “qualifications” for a particular job.

    Advocates of “affirmative action” sometimes like to use this rationale – for example by arguing that black cops can police black neighborhoods better than white cops. (Plausible but unproven, AFAIK.) The problem is that this can as easily cut the other way. Maybe white salespeople are better at waiting on white customers.

  59. When did “money-grubbing” become such a sin?”

    About the time money was invented.

  60. When did “money-grubbing” become such a sin?

  61. “Except, of course, that Thomas attended college before any affirmative action programs were implemented. Oops.”

    I was referring to his appointment to the most elevated court in America.

  62. I’ll do what my dad used to do, wait for the tape and then fast-forward through the boring parts.

    But there aren’t any boring parts in KB!

  63. I’ll do what my dad used to do, wait for the tape and then fast-forward through the boring parts.

    But there aren’t any boring parts in KB!

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