Wednesday, February 01, 2006

a very tired controversy, including SPOILERS

Ever since the the Oscar nominations have come out, the media has been turning itself blue hollering, "Culture wars! Culture wars!" Turns out Brokeback Mountain offends some of the Concerned Women of America because -- well, actually, I'm stumped as to why. Damned if Elizabeth Vargas, who has informed me of the issue TWICE now, mysteriously during "World News Tonight," has deigned to explain.

The thing is (SPOILERS!) I'm scratching my head over what even the most repressed and repressive would find objectionable in this film. The two men have a love affair, sure, but they both hate themselves for it and torture each other with their inabilities to commit to a taboo lifestyle. Instead they bow to social pressure and marry women, who they, of course, then inevitably make miserable.

They don't identify as "queer," they don't agitate for rights or acceptance -- in fact they're completely apolitical. I'd think they'd be the right's posterboys for good gays. Well, okay, maybe that's stretching it, but if the right were willing to tolerate homosexuality in America, don't you think this is how they'd want it to look? Cloaked in quiet suffering & self-denial?

On the other hand, I did come across this article from that I hope Ang Lee and Annie Proulx have also found, because it seems to indicate that they did their job perfectly.

Oh also: I can't post a frikking thing about Palestinians without thereafter feeling guilty about it. So let me add, to assuage my lefty conscience: I think it's criminally stupid that French and German papers are now reprinting the offensive cartoons, to the continued horror of the Muslim world. Thanks, guys. Well done. Way to show how advanced and mature you are as a civilization, shaking salt onto an open wound. Even Voltaire, seeing this, would ram his forehead through the nearest wall.

We in the west have grown accustomed to the ramifications of free speech. We weren't born with a thick skin; we've developed one over hundreds of years, and not without a rather a lot of bloodshed along the way. It's naive to expect that the Arab Muslim world, largely without a free press or a tradition of satire, would be able to react the same way we do. And anyway, even in the west protests pop up all the time over free speech issues. France doesn't allow large religious accessories in public schools, that's how much they value total free expression.

So tend to your own backyards, Western world, and stop making things worse.


Nate said...

When should the Muslim world begin to develop its own thick skin?
Whenever that moment of origin comes, it will start with skin that is paper thin, be it now or 100 years from now.

This reminds me of a point Christopher Hitchens made during the whole Koran-flushed-down-the-toilet brou-ha-ha: The clerics seemed disproportionately apoplectic about that event, while being deadly silent (in the truest sense) that Sunnis were blowing up mosques, sacred places of worship that - oh by the way - had adherents to their very faith in them at the time. Could anything be more offensive to Muslims?
Well, yes: rumors of defacement to a mass produced book.

Those of us who have waited tables know that some diners are only interested in the experience of being disappointed. They just want to be able to send something back to the kitchen. Similar to this, some people (clerics, mullahs, Christian right - take your pick) are only interested in the experience of being outraged.

This is the same Western press that is consistently ruthless towards its own leaders, symbols, and policies. This is good. As long as they keep this up, that may be the best example to show those without a free press what it means to have one. Our other policies for the Middle East aside for a moment, the easiest way to prolong the thinness of their skin is to coddle them with a lack of criticism.

You take no offense if I voice my own views, do you bbblbk? (or, in this case, via someone who writes better than me). I ask because you never answer directly. Bloggers like dialogue, right? Brings attention and all that. Maybe you are dismissive. Maybe you enjoy sitting back and admiring the HTML beauty you have wrought. Maybe my intellect has stunned you into silence *cough* *cough*.

Nah. I value your insight into the world. Especially the “both joy and rage” bit. That’s gold, that there. But that’s why I speak up.

ester said...

Hey, sometimes I answer directly! Maybe not often, but I do always appreciate dialogue.

I don't think you could say in fairness that the west has been "coddling" the muslim world "with a lack of criticism." Two of its countries made up Bush's famous Axis of Evil -- or, as I like to call it, Axil. Iran, Syria, and Palestine were all just singled out for scolding in this year's State of the Union. Elsewhere in the media, your friend Hitchens, as well as virtually every op-ed writer I can think of, has had constructive criticism for that region.

I was just reading someone today who pointed out that the West has developed its thick skin by letting go of the sacred. Obviously it's not uniformly true, but to an extent it is: very little remains sacrosanct in the west. The muslim world has continued to take some things so seriously that they aren't willing to joke about them or let others do so. Are they right or are we right? Can we really judge?

I do, however, think some of the outrage is encouraged -- if not manufactured -- by the people in power, who benefit by having their subjects vent their rage at a target halfway around the world. Less energy remains to focus on the bigger problems at home.

Nate said...

What, you don't like The Hitch?

Rebecca said...

on thursday i was in deheisha, a refugee camp in the west bank near bethlehem, listening to a very smart and kind man tell me why the second intifada started. (he disagrees with the methods but not the reasoning for it.) ariel sharon, he said, tried to enter the al-aqsa mosque on jerusalem's temple mount, accompanied by an armed escort.

our religion, he continued, tells us to prevent outsiders from entering the mosque. why? i asked, when tourists are allowed on the mount and near the mosque any time. i don't know why, he said, laughing, it is just that way, and we all know it.

it made me pretty damned angry that someone so smart is ready to justify violence for a symbol he can't explain. likewise the cartoon thing: the western free press doesn't need to go out of its way to piss off islamist radicals, who (being steeped in a culture of honor above all) have only to point the finger and watch the unstudied thousands burn the flags.

which brings me to the question: who cares if they burn flags? are those our sacred symbols that we won't have despoiled?

ester said...

welcome back, rebecca!

personally, flag burning leaves me bemused. i think it would be a more effective gesture if i didn't see it happening in news articles every tuesday and thursday.

the situation has however gotten worse, which i do think is another possible problem, or at least side effect of flag burning: it tends to further rouse the rabble. now people are torching embassies and calling for blood. and my sympathy goes the way of the dodo.

Arthur said...

You're... kidding about the Brokeback Mountain thing, right?

They portray two people living the lifestyle of the right's "good gays", sure, except that they portray it as miserable and self-destructive and horrible, rather than healthy and liberating and blessed. That's actually a lot more damning than showing a bunch of "bad gays" being bad and suffering the various consequences, good or bad, thereof. (It's one thing to say that being bad is sometimes fun but will have negative consequences in the hereafter, but it's much harder to make the argument that being good is still justified by some future reward if its consequences in this life are plainly miserable and destructive.)