One More Reason to be Glad Bork Got Borked—and to Love Reason (Veiled Subscription Pitch)

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"You almost began to want to put the wall back up."

That's former Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, quoted in today's Washington Times. The story, titled "U.S. pop culture seen as plague," starts off thus:

Robert H. Bork remembers his ambivalence in 1989 as the Berlin Wall came down and dungarees and rock music poured into the former East Germany.

Near the end of the story, Bork relents a bit, displaying the solomonic judgment he no doubt would have brought the nation's highest court:

"[Muslim leaders around the world] have good reason to be very worried about" the spread of American movies, music and fashion, Mr. Bork allows. "I suppose it's better than what they have now, but I wouldn't celebrate too much if they began to adopt our popular culture."

Contrary to the title and Bork quotes, the article mostly details how American pop is actually not particularly dominant globally and that it typically functions as a means of dissent and individuation from authoritarian rule. And one of the best spokesmen for that is Reason's own Charles Paul Freund, who provides the main meat for the story:

"American dominance is just a myth," says Charles Paul Freund, senior editor of Reason magazine. "The biggest films in most major markets are really not American films."

Mr. Freund notes that Bollywood movies still rule the Indian market. Likewise in Western Europe, native films are more popular than American imports. Even the Chinese film industry may become a juggernaut within a generation….

No American artifact will 'Americanize' a foreign user any more than playing a Japanese-produced video game will make you Asian," Mr. Freund argues. "It's preposterous."

The whole story is here.

Read Chuck's "In Praise of Vulgarity: How commercial culture liberates Islam–and the West" here. And these two related pieces: "Bert and the Infidels: How a puppet joined the jihad" and "Really Creative Destruction: Economist Tyler Cowen argues for the cultural benefits of globalization." And, since there's about eight hours before the drinking for New Year's is likely to begin, check out this talk I gave in 2003, "The Perpetual Meaning Machine" (in .pdf), that outlines Reason's particular take on culture.

And subscribe to the print edition of Reason already; you'll get our lushly illustrated mag a month before any of its content shows up here on our Web site. And/or buy a copy of Choice: The Best of Reason, which includes "In Praise of Vulgarity" and a ton of other great stuff. Details for subs and Choice here.

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  1. “…that outlines Reason’s particular take on culture.”

    Groupthink at Reason?

  2. Do we need to reconcile the two ideas that:

    A) Transformation through commercial culture can have a profound liberating effect and;

    B) Worries that the importation of culture are harmful are unwarranted because people stick to their own culture anyway?

    I’m not saying that this idea can’t be bridged, but I don’t know that I’ve seen CPF or others at Reason do it yet.

  3. That are great English I be usin’ up there.

  4. Jason,

    The question you raise above is, I think, partly answered in the 1996 story, Viewmasters: The audience’s power over media’s message, which discusses how individuals process culture. The question is also addressed in the talk mentioned in the original post.

  5. Jesus H., ambivalence at the Berlin Wall being toppled? And, it should also be pointed out to every Borkian idjit, plenty of vital rock music (and other forms of vibrant culture, like film and theater and photography and political writing) poured out from the East Bloc, before, during and after the collapse of Communism.

  6. Someone needs to take a hickory stick to Bork’s ass. 🙂

    Of course this shouldn’t be surprising. Bork has also argued that the First Amendment only covers “political speech,” and thus leaves scientific papers, much of literature, etc., open to unlimited government regulation.

  7. Nick Gillespie,

    The effort of American film companies to tap into the international market has made American films that are meant for general overseas distribution as well as home consumption perhaps more “cookie cutter” or “formulaic” in appearance though.

  8. But if we are neither robotic stooges programmed by the shows we watch nor trained dogs drooling every time certain bells are rung, just how do we interact with popular culture? Not surprisingly, most regulation-minded pols and intellectual critics discuss pop in terms that mirror what they know best: A podium from which a leader or professor lectures to audiences who (they assume) pay rapt attention to every uttered pearl of wisdom. But the operative principle in popular culture (as in the best politics and teaching) is dialogue, as opposed to monologue.

    mr gillespie, it seems to me that every critique that reason offers in favor of “barbarism” (pardon the term) and its harmlessness comes down to this basic assertion: people will do what is best for all of us by deciding and interpreting for themselves. in your piece, you implicitly take that view by criticizing a paternalistic “intellectual” view that more closely resembles scholastic learning:

    Just like TV sets or radios, we are dumb receivers that simply transmit whatever is broadcast to us.

    i understand that one of reason’s missions is to kill the gatekeeper.

    but i would submit that one of the great lessons of the 20th c mass media is that people ARE often dumb receivers — or at very least are highly suspectible to that behavior under repetition or duress.

    this is difficult for proud people steeped in the religion of the individual to admit, but evidence for that view is almost boundless. from d’annunzio to hitler to televangelism to nasdaq 5000 to furbies to wmd in iraq, the simple truth seems to be that people are animals who are often neither discriminating nor rational. worse, they are stubborn in error — it takes the experience of horrible consequence for most to see that they might have been wrong, if they ever do.

    the interplay between pop and its audience is far more complicated than most of its critics acknowledge.

    of course, but this is only *sometimes* true — but people are not only rational engines of intelligent function. only slightly removed from club-wielding savages are we — and to that we can easily return (and often have), only now armed with machine guns, tanks and missiles. we are barbaric animals at the core; civilization takes organized effort and maintenance. groupthink is part of being human, if not being intellectual, and one has to acknowledge the powerful part of people (including myself, of course) that is just a dumb receiver.

    your position advocates making everything and anything for general release and letting the consumer filter their own material. such anarchism suits a libertarian, but it is *highly* utopian to believe that such a state of affairs would have no effect — or improve — society and human behavior by the benevolent reinterpretation of all that is antisocial into that which is social. indeed, if anything, the spread of cynicism is leading not to a more rational community but a more mystic one — in which people take license to be cynical but have not the capacity to do so intelligently, instead succumbing to rousseau’s “appeal to the heart”, and end up reinterpreting input to fit a worldview that is little short of an emotional delusion. “resistant reading” can more easily be a path to the self-reinforcement of individually-maintained alternative realities as a search for objective truth in the hands of most human animals, who are not scientists by nature and cannot always afford to be in any case.

    perhaps bob dole is a dope (though i’m sure rob reiner is one). but such is the absurd condition of our society that even the reductive simplicity of dopes is useful in pointing out the obvious: the romatic impulse of shelley and byron has gone so bizarrely far that, in conjunction with the ubiquity of cartesian doubt, it works to effectively undermine civilized society — just as they had hoped it would, only in a far more profound way that they couldn’t have foreseen.

    i’m not trolling for government intervention; i see this as a weakness of our times, when complete irresponsibility and individual unlimitation is essentially the goal, and government regulation would probably do no better at holding back the demos from indulging its basest instincts. i personally think there’s likely nothing that will be done.

    but let’s not be naive so as to dream that throwing porn and violence at people as entertainment, even as they are offered total control of it, does not frequently degrade their behavior and outlook.

  9. “[Muslim leaders around the world] have good reason to be very worried about” the spread of American movies, music and fashion, Mr. Bork allows.”

    Does anyone else see the absurdity of having a party led by people like this do battle with radical Islam? It’s no surprise that Bush’s post-9/11 foreign policy agenda has strengthened one of the two main propogators of Islamist totalitarianism (Iran), and done almost nothing about the other (Saudi Arabia). And that the centerpiece of the agenda has been to sacrifice lives, treasure, and global prestige in order to topple a relatively secular tyrant who now looks set to be replaced with a Shia-led quasi-theocracy that’s sympathetic to Iran, while leaving a part of the tyrant’s country open to a brutal guerilla war that’s being led by Sunni Islamists.

    All of this is indicative of a mentality that’s high on chest-thumping bravado, but quite low on ideological focus.

  10. It’s funny that the ‘unprecedented Democratic opposition’ to Bork’s supreme court nomination is often cited as the reason for last 10 years of Conservative Republican’s open hostility toward Dems.

    Ironic that some of Bork’s own loopier opinions weren’t seen as open hostility toward classicly Republican ideals.

    As a side note:

    I used to see it refered to a “Baliwood” until very recently. Now this is the second time I’ve seen it as “Bollywood” (which I don’t think is near as cool or accurately descriptive). Opinion on that anyone?

  11. “I used to see it refered to a “Baliwood” until very recently. Now this is the second time I’ve seen it as “Bollywood” (which I don’t think is near as cool or accurately descriptive). Opinion on that anyone?”

    Yes–you’ve had your head up your ass, at least on this point.

    I’ve never seen the word “Baliwood”. Googling the word produced about 800 results. “Bollywood”, on the other hand, returns about 5.8 million results.

  12. Henry,

    Your “head up your ass” comment is a little much for such an innocent post don’t you think? But then I find some folks are extremely sensitive about the darndest things.

    Oh what the heck…It’s almost New Year…go fuck yourself.

  13. Hey, I limited to the specific point you raised–it was not a general assessment (well, until now that is).

    It was also indisputably correct, an obviously painful (to you) concession you have yet to make.

    By the way, how do you pronounce “Phoenix”?

  14. Henry,

    Correct you were, although I don’t know if a concession is in order.

    In my initial post, I simply made an observation – not a statement of fact – from what I now realize was a limited view of a particular facet of the entertainment world.

    You made an admittedly well-verified statement of fact in support of, well, a rather excessive (IMHO) response against my ignorance (at least on this point).

    But if you need that sort of validation, here goes…

    I concede you were correct on your Google numbers verifying the prevalence of “Bollywood” relative to “Baliwood.”

    I should point out that this was in no way painful at all nor did I dispute them. Any notion to the contrary is NOT obvious at all since I never addressed it.

    My problem was simply your excessive and unecessary backhand. It was indisputedly rude and probably deserving of an apology which YOU have yet to make – although I don’t really need one.

    Two wrongs do not make a right and I have, indeed felt bad about my previous posting.

    I therefore apologize for (my wardrobe malfunction and the fact that my dad was a cop which eventually begat) my indisputedly profane and equally rude typed response suggesting an interesting way for you to enjoy your New Year’s Eve.

    I’m not touching the “Phoenix” thing.

    Seriously…please accept my apology and have a happy new year.

  15. I don’t know why some people tend to be ruder than normal just because they’re on the Internet. That’s worse than Hitler.

  16. Stevo…You threadkiller you.

  17. but i would submit that one of the great lessons of the 20th c mass media is that people ARE often dumb receivers — or at very least are highly suspectible to that behavior under repetition or duress.

    Well, if you treat them like dumb receivers, then they will become dumb receivers. If you coddle people, protecting them from the worse influences of mass media, then you destroy their ability to become discerning consumers of such. They will lose their ability to evaluate media messages critically; this ability isn’t inborn, but is rather something most of us take in from being raised in a society where such messages bombard us with great frequency.

    Which is not to say that we are totally immune to the persuasive effecs of mass media; it’s an arms race between the media and our defense mechanisms. We’re still learning how to be a society that can handle this, and very possibly we’ll fail. But to just say “It’s never been done before” isn’t the same as saying it’s impossible. And dammit, we’ll go out in a blaze of glory if we fail. Freedom of speech has created some wonderful culture, and of so many types that almost everyone can find some kind of culture to fit their tastes. It’s a grand experiment, and like all experiments it can fail. But so far I think we’re succeeding beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

    of course, but this is only *sometimes* true — but people are not only rational engines of intelligent function. only slightly removed from club-wielding savages are we — and to that we can easily return (and often have), only now armed with machine guns, tanks and missiles. we are barbaric animals at the core; civilization takes organized effort and maintenance. groupthink is part of being human, if not being intellectual, and one has to acknowledge the powerful part of people (including myself, of course) that is just a dumb receiver.

    Once again, how are people supposed to learn how to be rational if they are always treated as if they’re irrational? That’s why we set up a system like capitalism — it works if people act their worst, but rewards those who act their best. Yes, people are often silly and do things that are counter to their best interest, but if you treat them like children, they’ll act like children.

  18. grylliade: 1
    gaius: 0

  19. Madpad,

    When I say/write something dumb/ignorant, I usually ascribe it to a “brain fart” or, as in this case, just say something like “Well, I must have had my head up my ass.” One time, on the record in a legal proceeding, I muttered “I must be going crazy” when I got my facts tangled up–later, there it was in black and white in the transcript. The lawyers call that an admission against interest.

  20. Henry,

    I’m confused now…which one of us has their head up their ass?

    Just kidding.

    BTW…how’d the legal proceeding turn out?

  21. Let’s have a group hug.

    Acknowledging the holiday here, let’s kiss.

    Like the French: an air kiss on each side… unless consenting adults wish to take it further.

    Hello Hun…

  22. I wasn’t a party, only a fact witness. But the “good guys” (in my estimation) lost. Fortunately my “admission” came in a deposition, not open court.

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