Previous month:
June 2007
Next month:
August 2007

July 2007

Suddenly Brown

I hesitate to comment on The Simpsons, but the Guardian website has a wonderfully absurd piece by Manish Vij on the “crude racist stereotype” that is Apu Nahasapeemapetilon.

The Simpsons has long irritated some Indian-Americans because of the thickly stereotypical character of Apu, the effete cornershop owner with fractured English, excess fertility, bizarre religious practices, illegal immigration status and a penchant for cheating customers. Apu is quite a unique character on The Simpsons. Unlike the show's parodies of policemen and Irish-Americans, he's the only character to mock a small American minority relatively unknown in the mainstream, and he's by far the most visible immigrant.”

Fans of the grotesque Groundskeeper Willie might disagree with this claim, and one might wonder why the size and visibility of a minority has any obvious bearing on the alleged grievousness of the parody. Insofar as any Simpsons character is actually sympathetic and not a stereotype or parody of something, Apu seems to be one of the least dislikeable ones. And I find myself wondering how Vij would rewrite Apu’s character to spare our sensitivities, and just how funny and endearing that corrected version would be.

But the po-faced absurdity of the piece is summed up rather well by Vij’s disdain for the “Peter Sellers simulacrum of an Indian accent” and his assertion that “Apu's voice Hank Azaria, a Greek-American, is a brown man doing a white man doing a brown man.” Readers unfamiliar with Mr Azaria’s pigmentation will be amazed to see just how brown he is.

More at Pickled Politics, where Rohin attempts to navigate the labyrinth of umbrage.

A Romantic Hostility

Further to this post and recent comments on the word “bourgeois”, this might be of interest. Norm has posted an itemised piece by Democratiya editor, Alan Johnson, called Why I Am Not a Marxist. It’s quite good on the fundamental unrealism of Marxist theory, its quasi-religious dynamics, and the evils inherent to its practical application. Here’s a very small taste:

“Fifth, the extraordinary romantic hostility to ‘bourgeois’ society that Marxism projects. Hatred of ‘bourgeois’ rights, ‘bourgeois’ democracy, ‘bourgeois’ morality, ‘bourgeois’ art, the ‘bourgeois’ family (and on and on), has fuelled hatred toward decent if prosaic societies and institutions and indulgence or worse toward appalling societies and institutions. And all in the name and the spirit of being ‘anti-capitalist’ or ‘anti-bourgeois’…

This animus against things ‘bourgeois’ I have come to despise. It is reckless about the defence of democratic society, insensible to how truly miserable the actually existing alternatives to ‘bourgeois’ society have been, and quick to morph into support for any thug who happens to be shooting at anything identified as ‘bourgeois’. This animus is the common sense of much of the intellectual class in the West where it is called ‘critical theory’. Inchoate negativism toward anything ‘bourgeois’ has morphed into support for anything that is ‘transgressive’. We are all Hezbollah now.”

It’s worth reading in full. Related, Fabian on bourgeois-on-bourgeois hatred.

Update: Chris Dillow points out Marx was wrong and unoriginal.

Frank Miller and the Flag

Thanks to Franklin at Artblog, I rediscovered Frank Miller’s NPR piece on patriotism and real-life supervillainy. Given some of Miller’s previous work, it’s an interesting development. Here’s an extract: 

“To me, [the flag] stood for unthinking patriotism. It meant about as much to me as that insipid peace sign that was everywhere I looked: just another symbol of a generation's sentimentality, of its narcissistic worship of its own past glories. Then came that sunny September morning when airplanes crashed into towers a very few miles from my home and thousands of my neighbours were ruthlessly incinerated… Now, I draw and write comic books. One thing my job involves is making up bad guys; imagining human villainy in all its forms. Now the real thing had shown up. The real thing murdered my neighbours. In my city. In my country...

For the first time in my life, I know how it feels to face an existential menace. They want us to die. All of a sudden I realize what my parents were talking about all those years. Patriotism, I now believe, isn't some sentimental, old conceit. It's self-preservation. I believe patriotism is central to a nation's survival. Ben Franklin said it: If we don't all hang together, we all hang separately. Just like you have to fight to protect your friends and family, and you count on them to watch your own back.”

More here.

The creator of Sin City and The Dark Knight Returns has described his next book, Holy Terror, Batman! as “a piece of propaganda” and “a reminder to people who seem to have forgotten who we're up against.”

Erasing History

Over at Samizdata, Perry de Havilland has a few thoughts on recent efforts by the Commission for Racial Equality to have Hergé’s Tintin in the Congo removed entirely from the shelves of British booksellers:

“The fact is, Tintin is racist. So what? It is a very good illustration of the attitudes of the era in which these stories were written (Tintin in the Congo was published in 1930), which was during the Indian summer of colonialism (with apologies to the people of Tibet still under Chinese colonial occupation circa 2007). I personally find books glorifying Socialism hideous as history has proven again and again that Socialism is repression and its end state is mass murder and horror. Maybe I should demand Borders stop selling those. Better yet, maybe bookshops should not sell anything that offends anyone, which should limit them to selling phone books in all likelihood.”

Tintin in the Congo has been moved to Borders’ adult graphic novel section and can be bought online here. Predictably, sales of the title have risen dramatically in the wake of the CRE’s protests. The book also comes with a warning that its contents include “bourgeois, paternalistic stereotypes of the period - an interpretation some readers may find offensive.” Readers will be thrilled to hear that Tintin in the Land of the Soviets is still available too. More on Tintin here.

I mention this because a few hours ago I caught part of the 1955 film The Dam Busters in which Richard Todd plays Wing Commander Guy Gibson, whose dog, a black labrador, is, unfortunately, called “Nigger”. Which raises the question of whether subsequent screenings will entail some discreet redubbing at the hands of the CRE.

Friday Ephemera

Xenu is Loose! Scientology the musical. // Bees make vase. One vase, one week, 40,000 bees. // Hawk versus deer. // Dub versus cornstarch. (H/T, Chastity Darling) // Norman Geras on God and being eaten by aliens. // Jeff Goldstein on “hate speech” and illiberal liberals. // Terrorism as a bourgeois vice. // Iranian and Egyptian cartoons. Humour not entirely obvious. // Man robs bank disguised as tree. (H/T, Ace.) // Via Coconut Jam, bubblegum cards. All of them, just about. // Type the sky. (H/T, Coudal.) // State-of-the-art eyelash curler offers “ultimate precision.” // Kitchen blender blends phones, toys, cans of cheese. (H/T, Dr Westerhaus.) // Stupid movie physics. Cars burst into flames for no apparent reason. // Larry Niven on the problems of human-kryptonian intercourse. Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex. // New polymer for armoured, flexible suits. (H/T, Warren Ellis.) // Robotic toilet provides “family environment” and discourages “homosexual activity.” // Balloons + lawn chair = beer at 13,000 feet. (H/T, Ace.) // Cute and moody mini-drama by Isaak Fernandez Rodriguez. But how does it end? // Holy conceptual nightmare, Batman! The Riddler sings. (H/T, EQ-ualiser)

An Adversarial Relationship

In the comments to this, a reader, Vitruvius, posted an extract from Alan Charles Kors’ 2003 essay, Can There Be An ‘After Socialism’? I think it’s worth sharing, as it touches on a number of recent comments here, most notably with regard to oppositional posturing, redefinitions of prejudice and the ideological denial of reality.

“Until Socialism… is confronted with its lived reality, the greatest atrocities of all recorded human life, we will not live ‘after Socialism.’ It will not happen. The pathology of Western intellectuals has committed them to an adversarial relationship with the culture - free markets and individual rights - that has produced the greatest alleviation of suffering; the greatest liberation from want, ignorance and superstition; and the greatest increase of bounty and opportunity in the history of all human life…

The cognitive behaviour of Western intellectuals faced with the accomplishments of their own society on the one hand, and with the Socialist ideal, and then the Socialist reality, on the other, takes one's breath away. In the midst of unparalleled social mobility in the West, they cry ‘caste’. In a society of munificent goods and services, they cry either ‘poverty’ or ‘consumerism’. In a society of ever richer, more varied, more productive, more self-defined, and more satisfying lives, they cry ‘alienation’. In a society that has liberated women, racial minorities, religious minorities, and gays and lesbians to an extent that no one could have dreamed possible just fifty years ago, they cry ‘oppression’… 

In the names of fantasy worlds and mystical perfections, they have closed themselves to the Western, liberal miracle of individual rights, individual responsibility, merit, and human satisfaction. Like Marx, they put words like ‘liberty’ in quotation marks when these refer to the West….”

The full essay can be read here. Related, this and this. Let the rumblings begin. And, of course, feel free to make a donation.

Bunting, Wrong Again

Further to my post on the mental contortions of middle-class Communist Seumas Milne and his disregard for facts, here’s another example of wilful delusion, suitably debunked. Over at Harry’s Place, David T (no relation) launches a fine broadside against Guardian regular Madeleine Bunting and her fanciful grasp of history and Islamist ambition. The piece is a little too long to summarise, but well worth reading in full:

“It is pernicious nonsense for Madeleine Bunting to seek to understand clerical fascists like Qutb and Mawdudi as ‘anti-colonialists’, whose rhetoric was sometimes a bit fruity. Mawdudi, as we've seen, was an advocate of murderous sectarianism within Pakistan, and whose philosophy had more to do with persecuting religious minorities and rival nationalists, than with ‘anti-colonialism’.”

More here. Laugh at other Bunting wisdom here and here.

Very Big Language

Further to yesterday’s post on Judith Butler and her opaque prose, I thought I’d add a few thoughts. One commenter, Dr Dawg, has argued that Butler is making a point, albeit badly:

“If any of you is really having a hard time with the passage quoted, I'll translate it into two-syllable words for you. I agree that she could have made her point in clearer language, indeed I wish she had, but that doesn't mean there is no point there to be found.”

I think this misses an important point. The issue, I think, hinges on whether you regard the opacity of Butler’s statement, and of many others I’ve highlighted, as a result of ineptitude or something more deliberate. Is it a mistake, a technical necessity, or a stylistic affectation and convenient camouflage? It seems to me that mere clumsiness doesn’t explain the prevalence and uniformity of those “mistakes” among leftwing PoMo academics. It seems much more likely that this habitual and remarkably uniform obscurantism is a determined effort – specifically, an attempt to hide the slightness of certain ideas and their various assumptions and contradictions.

The issue, as I see it, is one of bad faith. Hiding a small and tendentious idea, or no idea at all, inside Very Big Language is not a promising indicator of good character, honesty or wisdom. As I’ve argued elsewhere, one might suspect that the unintelligible nature of much postmodern ‘analysis’ is a convenient contrivance, if only because it’s difficult to determine exactly how wrong an unintelligible analysis is. In this respect, one might see the PoMo phenomenon as not so much a loose collection of often disreputable ideas, but more as a rhetorical tactic employed by narcissists, ideologues and academic shysters.

Playing the Rube

Thanks to a disaffected reader, Louis Proyect, I stumbled across the website of the philosopher and critic, Denis Dutton. If my recent pieces on Carolyn Guertin and Jacques Derrida were of interest, Dutton’s site is well worth exploring. There’s an amusing broadside aimed at Baudrillard and his admirers, and a shot at deconstruction. There’s also this piece on professional obscurantism and attempts to browbeat unsuspecting students: 

“The pretentiousness of the worst academic writing betrays it as a kind of intellectual kitsch, analogous to bad art that declares itself ‘profound’ or ‘moving’ not by displaying its own intrinsic value but by borrowing these values from elsewhere... These kitsch theorists mimic the effects of rigour and profundity without actually doing serious intellectual work. Their jargon-laden prose always suggests but never delivers genuine insight. Here is... Prof. Judith Butler*, from an article in the journal Diacritics:

‘The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.’

To ask what this means is to miss the point. This sentence beats readers into submission and instructs them that they are in the presence of a great and deep mind. Actual communication has nothing to do with it.”

As Dutton argues elsewhere, the objective here is to induce anxiety and play the rube - to exploit the trust of people who stare at such things, find nothing of significance, and assume the fault is theirs. I realise the idea that such a thing can happen, and happen frequently, is taboo. To recognise bad faith of this magnitude requires an unseemly kind of honesty. But, as we’ve seen, these things happen nonetheless. And they continue to happen precisely because the very idea is unthinkable.

*Judith Butler is Professor of Comparative Literature and Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley. She is a “leading queer theorist” and has been described as “one of the superstars of 90s academia” and “probably one of the ten smartest people on the planet.” Related, this and this.


I know, I know. I said I’d be away until Monday. But I felt strangely drawn to the latest efforts of embittered Communist Seumas Milne. Still misinforming Guardian readers with undiminished zeal, Milne once again reheats his “root causes” schtick and denounces Ed Hussein and Hassan Butt as “NeoCon poster boys.” (I’m guessing he’s not too keen on Tawfik Hamid, Tanveer Ahmed or the dissident exile Tahir Aslam Gora either.) Apparently, we mustn’t listen to what jihadists and ex-jihadists tell us about their own motives, because – pah - what the hell could they know? In MilneWorld™, Tariq Ramadan is best described as a “liberal academic” and when middle-class Muslim zealots try to kill innocent people – and nightclubbing women in particular – this must be “retaliation” against imperialist “oppression”. And nothing whatsoever to do with nihilistic fantasies, sexual resentment and an urge to be a player in an Islamist psychodrama

With eerie seriousness, Milne argues that,

“If the bombers’ real focus was, say, sexually liberal Western lifestyles, they would presumably be attacking cities like Amsterdam and Stockholm.”

Setting aside the murder of Theo Van Gogh, the effective exile of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the numerous death threats against half a dozen Dutch authors, artists and politicians, I suppose we should simply ignore the arrest of nine would-be jihadists in Denmark in September 2006, and before that another four in Stockholm and Malmo in April 2004. And I guess we should overlook the planned terror attacks on a church in Uppsala, and disregard the Stockholm mosque selling cassettes calling for “holy war”. Perhaps Seumas Milne is somehow, conveniently, unaware of the rapid rise of fundamentalist Islam in Stockholm and the sustained campaigns of violence and intimidation against bus drivers, paramedics and firefighters in “Muslim only” areas of several Scandinavian cities. And presumably we should avert our eyes from the repeated targeting of London nightclubs, where “sexually liberal Western lifestyles” would no doubt be in full hedonistic effect.

Regular readers will, of course, remember just how credible and trustworthy Comrade Milne can be.