The Hateful Art?

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On the opening day of Christmas, Tarantino gave to me: four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and 500 N-words.

Today is the opening day for Quentin Tarantino’s new film “The Hateful Eight.” And since it’s Christmas, I thought I’d put on my scrooge costume and call out the right for a certain hypocritical tendency.

If the filmmaker wasn’t already the bete noir of conservatives, he certainly became so recently after his well publicized anti-police comments. I can certainly understand how a police officer might have a personal reaction to that, but must the entire Republican base rush to demonize Tarantino? So an artist made some remarks you disagree with. Why should we care what our artists’ opinions are on social and political matters? Read more

Puff Peace

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Stuck one day in bottlenecked traffic, I let my eyes wander over an ad sprawled along the side of a bus. It was sponsored by the California Department of Health and depicted a doe-eyed little boy with the copy “Steven’s father wasn’t the only victim of the tobacco industry.”

Then an ad came on the radio, sponsored by the same bureaucracy, in which a hospitalized smoker recovering from an operation naively asks his doctor why the tobacco companies keep insisting nicotine is not addictive.

Well, as Sky Masterson says in “Guys And Dolls,” the world is full of people ready to sell you a gold watch for a dollar. So to the bedridden naif I say: who cares what the tobacco industry says? — you know better.

California’s new pathos-heavy, intellect-insulting anti-smoking campaign is presumably being paid for by tobacco settlements. While this is far better than having taxpayers pay for it, it’s still a waste of money. Once and for all, smokers are not helpless victims in the hands of evil, money-grubbing tobacco companies. Read more

Safe Space

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There’s no safe space in space. And yet when Rey, heroine of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” ventures from her humble planet of Jakku into outer space for the first time, she handles herself to a fault.

The feminist press is roundly praising JJ Abrams’ relaunching of the new “Star Wars” franchise, employing its favorite term, “badass.” And yet I can’t help but wonder whether Rey could maintain her strength and courage if she were a student at an elite American college and someone like Christina Hoff Sommers came to give a lecture.

There are no safe spaces in space, and perhaps evil empires and bloodthirsty monsters are just as threatening as dissenting views.

Addendum: I’ve just learned what a Mary Sue is, and Rey is the queen of Mary Sues.

Sag Reflex

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When grandmothers see young men with sagging pants, there’s a reflex action to tell the boys to pull them up. That’s what happened this week when the CBS Evening News ran a segment on a 77-year-old African-American grandmother in Milwaukee, a former corrections officer, who spends her days and nights scouring the neighborhood for young men who are up to no good and politely encouraging law-abiding behavior.

The CBS editors made sure that her remarks about sagging pants didn’t end up on the cutting-room floor. You know, down where the sagging pants are.

As a menswear journalist, blogger and general sartorial observer, the sagging pants issue certainly piques my curiosity from a sociological as well as sartorial standpoint. Is there morality in the way we dress? From sumptuary laws to Thomas Carlyle’s “Sartor Resartus,” it would certainly seem so. Read more

Past Imperfect

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Historical films say more about the era in which they’re made than the era in which they’re set. During the November ratings sweeps, CBS aired a miniseries about the early days of rock ‘n’ roll. Ostensibly about the rise and fall of a rock star, the film dwelled incessantly on race and gender discrimination, showing just how much these issues dominate not only the way we see the world today, but the way we see our yesterdays. As more special-interest groups come to the table of public debate, a struggle ensures over how the past is interpreted, while in the background a gloomy shadow of guilt looms over the American psyche.

When a writer embarks on a piece of historical fiction, he immediately encounters the nasty problem of America’s former racial segregation and limited opportunities for women. If the writer avoids addressing these issues, because they are extraneous to the plot, he can be accused of somehow endorsing the way things used to be. The safe alternative is to hammer hard on social issues, usually at the expense of the human drama.

True, American society was formerly less englightend than today, but rather than congratulate ourselves on leading the world in civil rights for women and minorities, America has a first-rate guilt complex and can’t stop flagellating itself over its chequered past. And so fiction appears as a convenient and therapeutic way to rewrite the past to suit the needs of the present. In our TV miniseries, the minority lead is draped in the robe of martyrdom, while the female lead is an uberfemme so accomplished I’m surprised they didn’t give her X-ray vision. Our white male lead, on the other hand, winds up a self-absorbed has-been.

The 1950s are the Victorian era of the 20th century, and whenever they are brought up, cynical intellectuals start sharpening their claws. One need only mention the Eisenhower era’s good things — its strong economy; solid nuclear families; basic civility; and lower rates of crime, substance abuse, and illegitimacy — to be accused of “idealizing a mythical paradise of a ‘Leave It To Beaver’ lifestyle that never really existed.”

But in much historical fiction, a kind of reverse idealization occurs in which the flaws of the past are corrected to harmonize with the attitudes of the present. This act of tweaking history through the medium of fiction is just as pernicious as the unconditional glorifying of the past that it seeks to counter. Read more

I Just started writing a mythology-infused alternate-history novel called “Jason And The Argonazis.”

Archetypal Dressing

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The return of the preppy look must have aging Ivy Leaguers spilling their snifters in paroxysms of laughter. The very essence of preppydom is that it is a style more or less impervious to the passing of time, and its return has been to the radar of the fashion industry and its followers, not the brandy-drinking, suede-elbow-patch set. Preppydom stands for age-old institutions and old-fashioned values — making money, for example. And when it comes to style, preppies have always eschewed the vagaries of fashion and opted for high-quality clothing in timeless, iconic styles.Though our millennium is but a nascent bud, if ever there was the impetus to lurch radically forward in the draping of the human form — to spandex “Star Trek” suits, for example — it would be the crossing of that powerful psychological threshold of the year 2000. And yet so far our young millennium has revealed the opposite tendency: We’ve returned to the familiar styles of the 20th century as if reaching for a cherished sweater.

Perhaps there’s nowhere else to go in fashion, and if there is — say, to the Starship Enterprise — we’re not ready to go there and may never be. So were Ralph Lauren and Lilly Pulitzer right all along? Is classic-with-a-twist the only way to dress with dignity, and without ever having to worry about being out of style?

And most importantly, will preppies inherit the Earth? Read more