Wednesday, February 03, 2010


The previous post quotes Roger Ebert. When I visited the site, I took special note of this passage from his review of Open Range:
One of the many ways in which the Western has become old-fashioned is that the characters have values, and act on them. Modern action movies have replaced values with team loyalty; the characters do what they do because they want to win and they want the other side to lose. The underlying text of most classic Westerns is from the Bible: "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul?" The underlying text of most modern action movies is from Vince Lombardi: "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing."
These words don't hold true for all westerns or all action films, but the principle seems sound.

It occurs to me -- after reading some of the comments evinced by the previous posts, after reading the comments on other web sites, and after reviewing the traumas we've experienced over the past few years -- that this culture made a huge mistake when it switched from westerns to action movies. In modern politics, as Bob Somerby notes, it's always shirts versus skins.

I don't speak purely in terms of D-versus-R. In the primaries, for the first time, we saw the "action movie" mentality applied to a primary. And we can slice the cheese even thinner: I well recall that when I wrote exposes of the "certificate of birth" nonsense, the woman who helps to run No Quarter wrote to me and told me to lay off. In essence, her message came down to this: Obama was Enemy #1 and any weapon against Enemy #1 was justified.

Shirts versus skins. And never mind the truth.

Today, Karl Rove wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal whose message is summed up in the head and subhead:
The President's GOP Outreach Comes Too Late
A photo-op is not the same as compromising on policy.
Unreal! Of course, this president has done nothing but compromise with the Republicans. He has, in many ways, been a Republican president. Rove knows that, and a lot of other people know it, but they'll never admit it, because doing so wouldn't fit the shirts/skins narrative.

The bloody battle between Obama and the GOP is really a battle between a moderate Republican somewhat to the right of Eisenhower and the ultra-right kooky radical rightists whose ideological forebears used to call Ike a commie. And yet the battle is no less bloody. Henry Kissinger once said: "Academic politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small." Today, one could say that Washington politics are so vicious precisely because the differences are so small.

Here's a question for readers. If I were to point out something worthwhile being done by the Obama administration, how many of you would conclude that I've softened? If I were to point out a worthwhile plank in the tea party platform, how may would conclude that I've softened? If I were to quote a good line from Karl Marx, how many would conclude that I must be a commie? If I were to quote a good line form Adam Smith, how many would conclude that I've turned libertarian?

Values -- or shirts-versus-skins?

Fear the kids growing up on Michael Bay. They need some John Ford.

(By the way, Open Range should be watched twice: Once, because it's a good movie. And a second time, just to study Robert Duvall's performance. That guy could sell a line even if the words were chosen by a computerized randomizer. And no jibes about Costner: His work here is terrific.)
Never thought of it this way, but I agree...I also wonder if it takes far less courage to be a part of the team as opposed to following your own ideas of right and wrong. Standing alone for what you believe in can be lonely...takes guts when it's unpopular.
Many movies of the past few decades also feature the "Dirty Harry" anti-hero who does good by doing bad. These characters ignore civil liberties and due process to catch/kill bad guys, exemplifying the concept of "the ends justifies the means."

(Of course, being Hollywood, they never torture or kill innocent people by mistake)

How many Obama supporters believe in that concept?
I don't know who thought Obama's post-partisan schtick was ever a good idea but the GOP sure saw him as a sucker from a mile away. I cringed every time I heard that he wanted to reach across the aisle and work with the Republicans.

What he didn't understand was that the Republicans were/are angry pit bull terriers that needed to be put in their place. He desperately needs to watch the Dog whisperer sometime and open up his eyes.

After what those fools did to our country they were the last people who should ever been consulted on anything. And did they ever consult with the Dems when they were in charge? Obama is a first class knucklehead who really doesn't get it.

You never, ever compromise your position before the game even starts. If the man would ever have lived in the real world he would know these things. The worst part of the deal is that he compromised with a bunch of people with worthless ideas. Ideas that have no possibility of ever doing good for anyone. The whole situation is completely insane.
I don't believe in absolutes. Quoting a fascist or a communist does not mean one espouses all the views of either. For example, I'm not fond of Harry Truman or Lennin, but both are quotable. "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so" -- Shakespeare (Hamlet Act II). But the best quotes come from movies. The truth is: "We accept the reality of the world with which we're presented" -- The Truman Show. And unfortunately very few question and test the truth of their reality which is the sum of their beliefs handed to them by society from culture to culture.
Interesting to encounter your blog entry today. The past two weeks I’ve been feeling increasingly disturbed by the “team”-like quality of political discourse these days. Sometimes it almost seems that for many folks, beliefs/positions are largely irrelevant – the tribe is all that matters.

(Incidentally, I’ve been planning to watch Sergio Leone’s A Fistfull of Dynamite when I get a chance – it’s the only Leone film I’ve not yet seen).

On an unrelated note – the demise of Liberal Rapture is bizarre. I’ve gone over there occasionally – John sometimes had interesting things to say. When I tried visiting the site today, my browser was redirected. Looks like someone else bought the domain name (apparently to silence the blog).
Joe: I couldn't, couldn't agree with you more. And what I love about your blog is that you do, almost always, seek the truth - not seek to support the conventional wisdom or give over your intellect to whatever party apparatchik dogma is in vogue.

But, you see - you do fall victim to what you fault in others. You reflexively demonize people who are labeled by others without looking at their actual values or principles. The tea partiers, for example, are an amalgam of people with disparate perspectives who came together out of an outrage of the debt the government was levying in vastly increasing amounts on future generations.

You can doubt the sincerity of every single person in this movement all you want (and you are often factually inaccurate in how you have evaluated when people who are prominent in that movement began to express outrage over goverment debt), but your doing so smacks much more of the fact that you just don't like that "team" than a real evaluation of their statements and general principles.

Again - of course, there may be much to castigate amongst what tea partiers are agitating for - immigration issues come to mind. But, if you REALLY want to get past the skins vs. shirts, you need to look at the log in your own eye too.
Re Liberal Rapture: bizarre indeed ( But the blog is still going at

If you want to identify the source of these motiviations, look to the reality tv shows such as survivor and all that came since.

In every situation, group think is the methodology used to win short term. Its ok if you off somebody else, but how dare you off me!

What a bizarre message to send out, over and over, and over again.
I think both loyalty and conscience play a role in politics. Loyalty to the party makes your party strong-one just has to look at Joe Lieberman to see how damaging disloyalty can be to getting something done.

On the other hand blind loyalty can be a horrible thing-look at what the kool aide drinkers have done to the democratic party-we had a change to remake the world and they blew it.

So I don't think that there is a black and white answer to this issue-black and white answers may have worked in the early days of film but reality is more colorful.
Thanks for your article about westerns losing their appeal because of a shift in men from keeping their values to just playing in a shirts vs skins game. I agree! Men have gotten side tracked and no longer see life in the perception of values. They seem to have gotten too superficial. I believe we have not kept our eye on the ball. We have lost focus. Life is not just a game. It is and has always been between good and evil. And if evil can get you distracted or to lessen your grip, then it begins to win. I believe America was made by people who did not stray from the values they were taught. They stayed true and got the job done. They made their dream and didn't give up, even when there were some who tried to take it away. I have written a western novel about such men. Thanks. B L Strong, author
Kung Fu Monkey got it right:

Our representatives -- and to a great degree we as a culture -- are completely buffaloed by shamelessness. You reveal a man's corrupt, or lying, or incompetent, and what does he do? He resigns. He attempts to escape attention, often to aid in his escape of legal pursuit. Public shame has up to now been the silver bullet of American political life. But people who are willing to just do the wrong thing and wait you out, to be publicly guilty ... dammmnnnn.

We are faced with utterly shameless men.
* * *
I don't know what to do about this.
If I were to point out something worthwhile being done by the Obama administration, how many of you would conclude that I've softened?

I wouldn't. I've managed to give credit when credit is due, just as I've defended Sarah Palin against the misogynistic attacks while at the same time detesting her political views (much to the chagrin of my "progressive" friends).

I heartily agree with your observation that this shirts-vs-skins mentality is killing us. I've been writing about it for some time at Blue Lyon, most recently here and especially as it relates to Obama continuing Bush's assault on civil liberties. The belief that anything My Team does is fantabulous and anything The Other Team does is bad, bad, bad is just so asinine.

It's like everyone has forgotten that this is real life and not March Madness.
Thanks so much for this Joseph. I don't comment much her, but this coincides with my thinking exactly. I thought this way since at least the 2000 Presidential election. I tentatively agree with those who say we need to shake up the system, get rid of the virtually identical dominant parties and start over with real populists. I'm not sure how this should work or even if it would, but we are going nowhere but down with the way things are now.
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