Wednesday, October 15, 2003
Via Charles Johnson and Roger Simon, and ultimately by way of Meryl Yourish, comes a screed by The New Republic's Gregg Easterbrook on Quentin Tarantino. I actually agree with much of what he says -- I never understood Tarantino's appeal: he really does seem to take sadistic pleasure in how he treats the people in his movies, which usually leave me more disgusted than amused. Tarantino is certainly not alone in this, and he's not the worst of the lot, but I simply don't get all the noise about his "genius." Whatever, people like him, he's successful, and the carnage he causes is fictional, so I have no problem with it, even if I don't get it. On the other hand, I do have a very serious problem with Easterbook's reasoning as it seems to jacknife and flip over right about here:
Set aside what it says about Hollywood that today even Disney thinks what the public needs is ever-more-graphic depictions of killing the innocent as cool amusement. Disney's CEO, Michael Eisner, is Jewish; the chief of Miramax, Harvey Weinstein, is Jewish. Yes, there are plenty of Christian and other Hollywood executives who worship money above all else, promoting for profit the adulation of violence. Does that make it right for Jewish executives to worship money above all else, by promoting for profit the adulation of violence? Recent European history alone ought to cause Jewish executives to experience second thoughts about glorifying the killing of the helpless as a fun lifestyle choice.
Never mind that the people killed in Tarantino's movies (at least by the protagonists) are hardly "helpless." What sets of my alarms is the gratuitous blame laid at the feet of the Hollywood executive, and the utterly useless invocation of their Jewish roots -- both to scandalize the reader with the phrase about worshipping money, and to chastise them for needing to be more sensitive to violence "as Jews."

Let's dispense with the money-worshipping first -- aside from deliberately playing on an ugly old stereotype, I fail to see how Easterbrook's point even stands here. I mean, how does he know what drove Eisner and Weinstein to green-light Tarantino's film? Maybe they genuinely liked it: plenty of other people did, including Roger Ebert, who gave it four stars. How does Easterbrook claim to know what is in the minds of Hollywood execs -- or, for that matter, anyone else? And how did these execs' religion have anything to do with it?

The second point Easterbrook makes -- that Jews must somehow be more repulsed by movie violence, because of prior history -- is simply nonsensical. He might have a point if the movie made campy fun of people rounded up by the millions and worked to death in concentration camps, but Kill Bill does nothing of the kind. The violence in Kill Bill is mostly personal, one-on-one (or one-on-many) choreographed combat, which is certainly not something uniquely experienced by the Jewish people. In fact, the whole concept makes no sense: if Hollywood does have a certain responsibility for the moral content of its output, why should this responsibility stop at the executives? Shouldn't the directors, producers, actors, even the lowly best boy grip (whatever that is) carry some of the burden? In particular,

  • With crime and violence harming disproportionate numbers of African-Americans, shouldn't Vivica A. Fox have refused her role?

  • Lucy Liu is Chinese-American; knowing how the Chinese have suffered at the hands of foreign invaders, including whites, should she have just said no?

  • What about Japanese actors like Chiaki Kuriyama and Sonny Chiba -- should they have refused to participate, given that much of the film is about an American who slaughters Japanese? (I believe there was some recent experience with Americans killing lots of Japanese, just after the Holocaust, actually...)

  • This film's stars are all women, but shouldn't they all have refused to be in the movie, realizing that a more vulgar and violent society would be quite detrimental to women who did not happen to be elite assassins -- such as actresses?

  • While I'm at it, what about Christians who participated in the making, marketing, and selling of this movie? Didn't Jesus have some unpleasant experience with torture and violence some time ago?
Really, once you start this train of thought and apply Easterbrook's all-knowing moralism, everyone who has participated in this movie has done themselves and people like them a disservice. Yet Easterbrook seems to be extremely selective about whom he chooses to shoulder blame for what comes out of Hollywood, and more selective still about why.

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