The Politics of Pique

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By Scott Ross

May 3rd marked the observation of something called “World Press Freedom Day,” first proclaimed by the United Nations in 1993. There is much irony inherent in this, the first especial instance of which was the passage three years following that initial proclamation of a bill, engineered by Bill (and Hillary?) Clinton and rammed through Congress at his (their?) insistence: The Telecommunications Act of 1996. This blatantly fascistic law has in the years since effectively reduced media control in the United States from 50 corporations to a mere six and jettisoned what I would argue is the single most important component of a free society, without which democracy is impossible: An unfettered press.

There is irony as well in the reactionary and repressive governments —Saudi Arabia springs to mind, as it will — the United States, in foolish contravention of George Washington’s warning,* habitually supports and in which the press is strictly controlled by a state which, further, goes out of its way and across continents to punish with torture and death. I would include in that charming group the current government of Israel, whose military snipers target not only Palestinian men, women and children but clearly delineated medics and journalists. And indeed, the U.S. itself, as evidenced by the appalling video the almost infinitely courageous Chelsea Manning released to WikiLeaks of American military personnel massacring civilians, including journalists, from a helicopter in Baghdad, and laughing as they did so.

The more immediate ironies, which went unnoted save by the progressive left, were that “World Press Freedom Day” was commemorated this year during a period when the Western press generally, and the U.S. corporate media specifically, is (to use their new favorite word) colluding with the Trump Administration and its shadow masters to demonize and depose a legally-elected government in Venezuela. At the same time, the three most egregious examples of free-speech suppression by the West had so recently occurred, and (in the first case) been roundly celebrated by nearly all the ladies and gentlemen of the corporate media and (in the second two) utterly ignored:

  • The expulsion (following the promise of a massive American bribe) from the Ecuadoran Embassy and subsequent immediate arrest, on a flagrantly specious charge, of Julian Assange, now in a prison reserved for hardened and violent criminals and soon quite possibly to be turned over to the U.S. and extradited (on equally spurious charges), there presumably to be tortured, placed before a kangaroo installation called the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia (known here as “The Espionage Court”), tried without legal defense counsel and sentenced for life — in not indeed to death — to the accompaniment of lusty cheers from the American press;
  • The harassment and, lately, arrest of legal and invited protectors of the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, in contravention of established world norms for protocol, a violation of international law and the inviolability of embassies throughout the world and which, its unalloyed totalitarianism to one side, will almost certainly generate dangerous blowback elsewhere;
  • And the re-imprisonment, largely in solitary confinement, of Manning, her release and her re-re-imprisonment last week, with the added financial burden it will eventually entail, in daily fines of $500 to $1000, in addition to the physical and psychological effects on a woman who has already been charged, sentenced, imprisoned and released for the identical “crime” and which are clearly, and cruelly if not indeed with evil intent, designed to break, or kill, her. Either would, presumably, be acceptable outcomes.

What is being done to Manning makes me so angry, and so frustrated, I can scarcely speak about it without choking. It is iniquitous. It is stunningly vindictive. It is in fact fascist. I am livid, not merely at the court that has imposed this deliberate torture on her, but the overwhelming lot of so-called journalists throughout America who are utterly silent on the subject…. when not actively sneering at and deriding her.

And it this last bulleted item that is most directly related to the main topic of this essay. For, setting aside for the moment that WikiLeaks (indeed, a free press generally) is the bane, not merely of the National Security State but of the corporate class, whose investments in the former are, however obliquely, threatened by exposure of the misdeeds of our military/industrial rulers, much of what now governs the reaction (or lack thereof) of corporate media, and its main consumers, can be boiled down to a simple concept. And the word that best defines this attitude is pique.

As long as Julian Assange, via WikiLeaks, was exposing the misdeeds of the hatred Bush Administration, liberals were more than delighted to receive the news — they were euphoric. Assange was all but nominated for a form of living canonization, feted and fussed over and interviewed at length. It was only when he, and figures like Manning and Edward Snowden, shone lights on the unsavory acts of the Obama regime (to use the favorite word of the mainstream media to describe any foreign government it does not care for) that Assange became suspect. This is due in part to party politics; how dare he — how dare anyone — rip the carefully constructed veil of respectability and moral rectitude off that universal symbol of hope, change and transparency? Revealing the lies and misdeeds of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz was one thing. Holding Obama to the same standards? Outrageous! But even that was as nothing compared to the greatest crime Assange committed: Drawing the curtain on the seedy backstage wherein Hillary Clinton exhibited her “private face” for her true public — her Wall Street owners.

That Hillary Clinton is not merely a practiced liar but, seemingly, a pathological one, should be news to no one not lost in the miasma of political team-sports. (As my friend Eliot M. Camarena https://emcphd.wordpress.com/ has noted, we’ve already had one of those in the Oval Office; he was forced to resign.) But that WikiLeaks revealed the extent of her prevarication — that was too much. Of course, Clinton’s deceit goes deeper than assuring her billionaire donors with a wink that she has a public face and a private one so don’t worry, boys, I’ll always be true to you. It involves her takeover, and operation of, the DNC throughout the 2016 election; its subsequent cheating of Sanders and disenfranchising of his supporters and independent voters, the largest proven case of election racketeering in modern American history; her so-called “Pied Piper Strategy,” whereby she and Bill convinced their media assets to prop up Trump (and which, indeed, included that pair’s efforts in getting The Donald to run); and her determination to deflect voter concerns over her sale, as Secretary of State, of uranium ore to the Russian Federation as a means to directly benefit her husband and their phony Foundation, onto her opponent. No wonder she wanted Assange drone-bombed.

It was this unconscionable airing of Clinton’s soiled pantsuits by WikiLeaks that placed Assange officially beyond the pale. This is what I mean by pique. It is the same pique that found in any critical discussion of Hillary Clinton’s neoliberalism (if not indeed neoconservatism) the inevitable accusation leveled at the questioner and regardless of his or her gender, of “sexism.” It is pique that created the Pussyhat Brigade, fueled meaningless acts of protest that continue even now and which embrace such paragons of public virtue as James Clapper and Robert Mueller, and which suggests to them placards (“If Clinton was President I’d be having brunch now”) revealing far more than their carriers realize about their own essential complacence, and the extent of their personal pique. It’s the source of the virus that has engendered the entire so-called “Russiagate” hysteria, the gas that makes it run and which finds its apotheosis in the crazed Red-baiting of Rachel Maddow and that collection of deranged harpies on The View on the sillier end of the spectrum, and the seeming desire for nuclear war with Russia on the more dangerous, deadly, end. And it is Manning’s association with Assange, on a matter completely divorced from Assange’s revelation of the Podesta emails, which governs the lack of support for her and the reaction to her extra-legal imprisonment. She is seen as an expendable means to “getting” the source of their pique.

For pique it is which has seen to it that Trump cannot engage in a meaningful or productive conversation with Putin about anything. It is pique that has given him the greatest re-election gift imaginable. It is pique which demands that Democrats, and their media assets, not give an inch, or admit that the entire two-year investigation was a colossal waste of time, choler and treasure. And it is pique that will ultimately doom the campaign of whichever corporate tool they nominate as their party’s standard-bearer next summer.

But pique has other uses; it can extend the common madness far beyond reason, if not ad infinitum. For it is this same pique that encourages Neera Tanden to observe of the adherents of Twitter, “There are many cultists on this site, but the Assange cultists are the worst.  Assange was the agent of a proto fascist state, Russia, to undermine democracy.  That is fascist behavior.  Anyone on the left should abhor what he did.  Not celebrate it. [sic]” Note that Tanden, who “earned’ over $314K in 2016, is nonetheless a) not literate enough to understand basic tenets of the written word; b) feels compelled to waste two of her 140-character limit on unnecessary spaces between sentences; and c) apparently believes that, “Not celebrate it” is a sentence. (Yes, use of an abbreviated clause can herald an effective rhetorical flourish. But not in this case.) Her sub-literacy aside — the lack of a hyphen between “proto” and “fascist,” for example — Tanden, a Clinton stalwart to the end, thinks she is being clever by expressing a fascist sentiment while deflecting the accusation to those who not only might disagree with her but who know that there is not now, nor has there ever been, the slightest evidence to suggest that Assange, or WikiLeaks, is in any way aligned with, or subservient to, the Russian Federation. Like icon, like acolyte.

I will not accuse Tanden of the staggering ignorance her nasty little Tweet seems to illustrate, as I suspect she knows quite how deliberately she is misleading her hapless followers with that specious accusation, so let us assume that she is well aware that WikiLeaks has published thousands of pages of documentation critical of Russia. She may not know, as many do not, that Putin is no great admirer of Edward Snowden — nor, by extension, of Assange or Manning or John Kiriakou or Bill Binney — believing that the man his nation gave asylum to is guilty of a state crime. (See Oliver Stone’s The Putin Interviews.) Note too that the Tandens of the world, who without ever offering proof — or who offer self-serving official United States government excuses as proof — invariably state that the elected leader of Russia is, to use their favorite, CIA-directed, phrase, “a brutal dictator.” Yet they see nothing brutal or dictatorial about a band of uniformed “secret police” dragging an obviously ill Australian publisher into a waiting van.

Tanden is, please recall, President of the so-called Center for American Progress (which despite its sunny, double-speak name is in fact a neoliberal corporate “think-tank”) and was, during the 2016 primaries, a close advisor of Hillary Clinton’s. And, as Jimmy Dore recently pointed out, once said — apropos of whether Libya, now a chaotic no-man’s land, owes America for its “liberation” — “We have a giant deficit. They have a lot of oil.” Could Donald J. Trump have advocated international resource theft any better? It should, however, be remembered that Assange also published some of Tanden’s damaging emails. There is more than a slight whiff of personal vengeance — not to say pique — in her words. Such is the duplicitous game these types play. Tanden’s reaction to Russia asking that Assange’s rights be respected? “Fascists take care of their own.” One is tempted to ape her immaturity and sneer, “Takes one to know one, lady.”

WikiLeaks Editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson reports that, not only was Assange being monitored by video and still camera at every moment of his life, including conferences with his Ecuadoran attorney, but that legal documents were stolen and copied, the whole of this illegal surveillance then turned over to blackmailers in Madrid. The Tandens of the so-called “left” say nothing, of course, about the (to use her own word, only properly hyphenated) proto-fascist treatment of Assange. And I would love to hear the smug, condescending British and American reporters who have grilled Hrafnsson and Assange’s Australian attorney Jennifer Robison if their own governments were spying on them in their homes, recording their personal communications, legal discussions, sex lives and bathroom visits.† They’d squeal like stuck pigs. Yet somehow Assange is “naive” for not assuming it’s been done to him — and, presumably, ungrateful for complaining about it. And they wonder that so much of the public, both in Britain and elsewhere, is thoroughly disgusted by the press?

No one has ever successfully challenged the veracity of a single WikiLeaks’ publication. And that, I submit, is the real reason Assange is so hated, both by the National Security State and the permanently piqued.


Irony abounds as well in the fawning treatment of reporters and commentators in the United States (and in Britain) who, out of their pique over Clinton as much as their loathing for Donald Trump, have opportunistically peddled two and a half years of evidence-free accusations concerning the President and his counterpart in the Russian Federation.

Take, for example, the case of Marcie Wheeler, the likes of whom Michael Tracey refers to as “journalist-adjacent types.” This woman did the one thing that Glenn Greenwald correctly maintains is the gravest sin a journalist can commit: Turning in a source to the government. Even now, a year after she did so, and with the Mueller Report released, Wheeler is still speaking as if her informing on a source was of the gravest importance to the investigation and so cannot reveal the circumstances. And the brigade that has made hay (and jack) on the counterfeit accusations against Trump and, by extension, Vladimir Putin, lauded her as a fearless exemplar of the journalistic profession. So we can see where we are now: If you expose a government’s international murders and militaristic duplicity you are beyond the pale; if you snitch on a source ​to ​that government, you’re a liberal icon.

Take as well the increasingly deranged, deliberately prevaricating and, I aver, fundamentally dangerous Rachel Maddow, dementedly Red-baiting not only a nation that has not been Red in decades, but anyone who debunks her infinitely debunkable, certifiably reactionary, assertions, not the least insipid of which is that the Kremlin will turn off your heat during record freezes. To the best of my admittedly limited knowledge only the U.S. has, through its secret HAARP program, that ability. But for $30,000 a day, a person like Maddow may, and will, say anything. And the unthinking Piqued cheer this madness on.

Those of us who grew up in the 1960s and ‘70s and who in our teens looked into the 1950s Red Scare could scarcely believe what we were reading. How, we wondered, could claiming Communist interference on everything, without the slightest scintilla of evidence, not have been looked upon with skepticism by, at least, the more intelligent and well-educated Americans?

We now know the answer.


In the early 1980s, the then-CIA chief William Casey made a statement to the newly-elected Ronald Reagan at their first meeting, which a principled man would have responded to in the only sane possible manner: By, if not calling in the White House guards to hold the maniac until he could be arrested and charged with conspiring against his country, at the very least demanding its speaker resign and his government entity be scrutinized in minute detail and re-aligned as a result of that investigation. Reagan, of course, did none of these things.

“We’ll know our disinformation program is complete,” Casey told him, “when everything the American public believes is false.”

One expects the National Security types to receive this information with nods of approval. One would like to imagine that others — particularly in the press — would express outrage. But those who believe Operation Mockingbird, the 1960s CIA campaign to influence and guide writers, reporters, editors and entire publications and publishing houses in the production of their news and analysis content, was ended merely because the Company told us it was also, presumably, maintain a conviction that the Easter Bunny leaves multicolored eggs in convenient baskets. Perhaps when the day dawns… and dawn it will, ere long… that these same writers, reporters and editors of publications find themselves in shackles, sharing a concrete wall with Julian Assange for the National Security crime of revealing truth to their viewers, readers and listeners, they will grasp the opportunity that fell into their laps to defend their own profession and which they deliberately eschewed in favor of the fast buck and the hosannas of the professionally piqued, and repeat to themselves a variation on the words of Pastor Martin Niemöller:

“First they came for Assange, and I did not speak out because I was not Assange…”


*”The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.” — George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796

†Always assuming — a dangerous occupation these days — these governments aren’t in fact doing just that, perhaps through our now ubiquitous electronic devices.


Copyright 2019 by Scott Ross

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Why I Am Not a Liberal

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Phil Ochs img

By Scott Ross

In a waning year of the Roaring ‘20s Bertrand Russell famously delivered a lecture entitled “Why I Am Not a Christian.” Although I pretend to nothing approaching Russell’s excellent mind, nor to his precise articulation of its febrile thoughts, and while I do not for a moment imagine it is as courageous a thing in 2019 to admit of a distrust of liberalism as it was for an atheist to explain himself publicly in 1927, one has to move with caution nonetheless. For if there is one thing liberals hate more than conservatives, it’s progressives — or in any case those who lean either to independence of mind generally or to the far left sphere specifically. We who do not thunder with the herd must nevertheless tread gently.

Introducing his song “Love Me, I’m a Liberal” to a live audience in 1966, the late Phil Ochs noted, “In every American community there are varying shades of political opinion. One of the shadiest of these is the liberals… Ten degrees to the left of center in good times, ten degrees to the right of center if it affects them personally.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cdqQ2BdgOA

But surely Ochs was being generous. In his own his time, and as he alludes to in his song, it was fashionable for liberals to applaud the efforts of Civil Rights workers and desegregationists while never once inviting a Negro into their homes (except perhaps to clean them) and, secretly, hoping integration would not arrive before their public school children were safely beyond its reach… or perhaps weighing the option of bombing the first bus that came to take the little darlings to another neighborhood.

The liberals of a decade prior were, nearly without exception, dedicated anti-Communists, only slightly to the sinister of J. Parnell Thomas and no more aware, apparently, of history or current geopolitical realities than Senator McCarthy. Were it to be pointed out to these types (which, in those days included not merely Democrats but moderate and even liberal Republicans, a class now entirely wiped off the political map) that no nation had suffered more in the late World War than the Soviet Union (8-10 million military deaths and 24 million civilians) or that it was Russia’s beating back of Hitler at Stalingrad which, more than any other single factor, including D-Day, led to the Allies’ ultimate defeat of Nazism, one would doubtless have been met with incredulous stares, quivering jowls and the trembling accusation that one was at the very least a parlor pink. If one, further, reminded his listener that Stalin repeatedly asked for assistance on the Eastern Front, was as consistently assured he would get it, and that FDR and Churchill reneged at every turn, preferring the blood-bath of Omaha Beach to a successful collaboration with Russia which might have made the D-Day landing superfluous… or that following Roosevelt’s death his successor instantly turned on the Russians, in contradiction of all previous assurances, and that, far from being a world aggressor, the Russian nation was entirely surrounded by our bases, with our missiles pointed squarely at her heart… the hearer of such appalling and treasonous sedition would almost certainly have reached for the nearest telephone and placed a call to his or her local branch of the FBI.

It is never the liberal who effects positive change. It is, rather, the radical (if, if you prefer a softer epithet, the progressive) for whom the notions of universal suffrage, collective bargaining, the 40-hour work week, the complete social and political emancipation for the descendants of our former slaves, the eminently reasonable demands or feminism and of the call for gay rights and an end to unjust wars (or indeed to stop their beginning) are not merely conversant with American ideals and traditions but virtually demanded by them, who move the nation to action. Although at present these past victories are touted, in easily-available memes, as “liberal” shibboleths (“The Weekend Was a Crazy Liberal Idea”), they were and are nothing of the kind.

Even as a teenager I was uncomfortable both with Democrats and with liberalism, although I could not at the time have articulated precisely why, or explored in any meaningful way the alternative. But when, at 18, I registered to vote, I instinctively did so as an Independent — just as, a year later, I cast my first ballot against the “liberal” Democrat Jimmy Carter. Certainly I did not vote for that senescent Pithecanthropoid Ronald Reagan; as I would in 2016, I voted as an independent… which is to say, independently. Little the former (moderate) Republican John Anderson did later in his life, including the founding of FairVote, prevailing at the Supreme Court in Anderson v. Celebrezze, endorsing Nader in 2000, or helping to found the Justice Party in 2012, persuades me that my vote was in any way squandered. That, in 1976, Carter had potential is not in dispute. But that he chose to surround himself with slathering Cold Warriors such as the vicious, vengeance-maddened Zbigniew Brzezinski and to, rather than engaging the Soviets, place himself solidly against them, merely encouraged the following decade of Red-baiting, nearly unregulated arms acceleration and the cultivation of “freedom fighters” who would, inevitably (and, as they continue to do today) turn their American-made (or at least, -paid) arms against the United States… that is, when they had a moment free from their torture and slaughter of civilians. And let us not forget that it was the liberal Carter who exacerbated tensions with the Iranians by first physically embracing the hated Shah, then permitting him refuge after he fled the country.*

It was liberals who made possible the Hollywood and television Blacklist of the 1950s, and who permitted the establishment, and growing encroachment, of a National Security State which now permeates every fabric of our lives, and who sat back and watched, clucking their tongues as police first aimed fire-hoses at and sicced attack dogs on, then fired their guns at, peaceful Black marchers in Birmingham and Selma, and anti-war protesters in Chicago and at Kent State. It was liberals who did nothing to stop American activity in Chile, El Salvador and Honduras, which led to the wholesale killings of tens of thousands. It was liberals, whose old novels I still read and whose old movies I still see, who more than anyone else peddled and belabored the most venomous stereotypes about homosexual men in their books and television sketches and motion pictures, throughout the 1960s and ’70s and ’80s, well into the 1990s and even into the early Aughts, far beyond a point at which they would dare pillory any comparable group in the culture… aside, of course, from women, on whom it is always open season. The more liberal, indeed, the writer or filmmaker, the more flagrantly he nursed his often obsessive sexual victimizing; even the otherwise estimable civil libertarian William Bradford Huie, for example, drove me from the perusal of his The Execution of Private Slovik with a casual (and, as I recall, wholly unmotivated) loathing for queers, and the equally liberal Sidney Lumet’s period work is likewise inexplicably filled with homophobic contempt.

It was liberals who did nothing to curb the worst excesses of Carter’s successor. It should be remembered that, throughout Ronald Reagan’s eight-year Administration, it was Democrats, not Republicans, who were the party in charge of Congress and who, whatever their rhetoric, acquiesced time and again to the President’s wishes, approving his nominees and enacting his laws, exactly as they have those of the man they have professed to despise, and oppose, since 2016. It was the “liberal” Bill Clinton and his colleagues in Congress who gave us the disastrous Telecommunications Act of 1996 which has, by itself, changed Paddy Chayefsky’s 1976 Network from a satirical warning to a virtual documentary. It was a liberal named Madeline Albright who, asked whether the 500,000 Iraqi children dead as the result of U.S. sanctions were “worth it,” replied in the affirmative. It was liberals who, rather than enacting a universal healthcare plan which could have covered every man, woman and child in the nation, gave us a bill modeled on Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan. It is liberals who now tell us that single-payer — in the words of their erstwhile savior, Hillary Rodham Clinton — “will never happen.” (This is not to mention her laughing uproariously at the truly horrific 2011 murder of the Libyan Muammar Gaddafi, sodomized with a machete.)

It is liberals such as Pelosi, Schumer, Booker, Harris and Schiff who are now most in thrall to big pharma, the insurance industry, the military-industrial complex, the bankers and Wall Street generally. It was the “liberal” Barack Obama who, quite contrary to ending our illegal wars abroad, expanded two wars to seven… and liberals in Congress and the Senate who permitted, when they did not in fact encourage, him. It is liberals who evince public nostalgia for the un-indicted war criminal George W. Bush and who — including such alleged progressive stalwarts as the over-hyped and imbecilic Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — wail and rend their garments over the passing of men such as his equally vile (and equally un-indicted) father, as well as the unrepentant war-monger John McCain. It is liberals who applaud and defend officials of CIA and even the once-hated FBI, whose current agents are the descendants of those who routinely infiltrated student groups and civil rights organizations in the 1960s and who murdered their leaders (Malcom, Martin, Fred Hampton) with impunity and without punishment or even governmental investigation. It is liberals who not only accede regularly to Trump’s demands but routinely give him more than he asks for; when he submits a defense budget larger than that of any previous occupant of the White House the Democrats, not content with that obscenity, tack on millions more. It was liberals who embraced a war-mongering sociopath as their candidate of choice and, having endured her all-too-predictable defeat, turned at last to the bogeyman-god of, not their own youths but that of their parents, as the receptacle into which they have placed all of their hurt, anger, fear and pique. And it is liberals now who, after three years of screeching that Trump is both a puppet of Vladimir Putin and an existential threat to America and the world, cheerlead for his attempts — roundly condemned by those nations not entirely in America’s thrall — at a putative putsch to eject from Venezuela its duly elected leader. There is your liberal “Resistance.”


The 2105-2016 election period was a bruising one, particularly if one had liberal friends. I suspect I lost more friendships during that 18-month period than during the previous several decades of my life, some of them stretching back 40 years and more, to childhood. As dispiriting as it was to see so many old liberals quiver with senile avidity over Clinton, to hear supposed lefties and alleged feminists like Gloria Steinem sneeringly dismiss young women in the Sanders camp as “boy-crazy” and the Human Rights Council proffer its endorsement, not to the candidate who has been a vocal, public supporter of gay rights since the early 1970s but to the woman who opposed marriage equality (until, that is, the magic 51% of respondents said they supported it) how much more depressing was it to hear and read the comments and see the actions of our own old friends as they championed, and campaigned for, a reactionary neocon in liberal Democrat pantsuits? For it is liberals who, succumbing to Hollywood pop-imagery, proclaimed themselves “The Resistance,” now hold marches in support of a man who helped lie us into Iraq and carry placards assuring us — as if we didn’t already know — that, if a mainstream (read: neoliberal) Democrat was in office, they’d be having brunch instead of making a protest.

Yet something larger than mere selfishness is at work here. Those of us who were equally repulsed by Clinton and Trump have not allowed our special disgust at the latter to interfere with our ability to think, and to reason, for ourselves; indeed, it was precisely this positive trait, I would argue, that would not permit us to vote for Trump’s immediate rival. And many of us who have been dismayed for three years by our liberal friends’ inability to sort reality from fantasy, truth from rumor (Steele dossier, anyone?) have presumed that they are exhibiting cognitive dissonance, an offshoot of the apparently permanent derangement with which so many were left by the seemingly endless election and the, to them, insupportable results of that protracted assault on our pretensions of Demos. But as my friend Eliot M. Camarena (https://emcphd.wordpress.com/) suggested to me recently, American liberals today are stuck in that phase the developmental psychologist Jean Piaget termed “transductive reasoning.” A few bits of definition and commentary should be sufficient to define the concept. (Thanks, Eliot.)

“As children progress from infants to toddlers, they also progress from the sensorimotor stage to the preoperational stage. The preoperational stage includes transductive reasoning. According to information on Piaget’s Theory from Michigan State University, transductive thought involves seeing a relationship between two things that are not actually related. Your child may be using transductive reasoning if she tells you that an orange is a ball. Because both the ball and the orange are round, her transductive reasoning tells her that they both must be a ball.” — Kristen Lee, List of the Cognitive Development of Early Childhood
https://www.livestrong.com/article/231931-list-of-the-cognitive-development-of-early-childhood/

“With transductive reasoning, a child reasons from case to case, ignoring important, well-established facts they have yet to learn. For example, a child might reason that pizza is triangular in shape rather than round, if they have only seen single slices. Also, a child might reach the conclusion that he is capable of turning into an Asian if he eats rice, because his friend Larry, who eats rice regularly, is Asian. Both of these cases exemplify the use of transductive reasoning.” — https://www.reference.com/world-view/transductive-reasoning-mean-eabbb9bff8ee8b16

“Transductive thinking in preoperational stage: Transductive thinking is prominent in children’s thoughts. They create a connection between two situations that occurs at the same time, even though there’s nothing in common to both of them. Transductive reasoning leads to illogical conclusions, since it involves reasoning from one particular instance to another particular instance without reference to the general. Transduction can sometimes yield a correct conclusion, but the overgeneralization resulting from this type of reasoning often leads to stubborn, rigid behavior. As the child matures, he becomes capable of logical thought based on inductive and deductive reasoning. ‘Inductive reasoning’ proceeds from specific to general ‘Deductive reasoning’ moves from general to specific.” — Ashana Suri https://www.slideshare.net/AashnaSuri/cognitive-development-including-piagets-theorymainly-in-preschool-years

“[Transductive reasoning] is so called because it focuses on concrete instances and does not follow the principles of either induction or deductive reasoning. Also called transductive logic, but this is avoided in careful usage, because it is clearly not a form of logic.” [Emphasis mine.] — http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803105323835

Am I saying my liberal friends — those few I have left — are children? No. Merely that they are thinking like children. And in so doing, are assisting the very man whose presence in the Oval Office has driven them from reason. The unintended result of their ceaseless yammering and instant adoption and repetition of words and concepts (collusion, the Emoluments Clause, redaction) about which they know nothing has been to strengthen the position of Donald J. Trump with his electoral base… and perhaps with a considerable number of his quieter foes as well.


Such transductive reasoning as has gripped liberals for the past three years plus is, of course, wholly enabled and abetted by the legion of CIA assets in the American corporate media. As I write these words, the Ecuadoran Embassy this morning opened its doors to a phalanx of British secret police, who duly arrested and carried Julian Assange — “guilty,” as far as is known, of little more than being a publisher — into a waiting van. Passing by for a moment the shame-making sight of a dozen burly, uniformed thugs dragging one small, bedraggled and, from what one hears, seriously ill, man into the street — how brave the guardians of law! how noble the soldiers of order! — I note that the babbling heads on CBS This Morning have already begun the disinformation campaign, accusing Assange of, in addition to the spurious and easily disproven charge of “conspiring with and encouraging” Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning, of somehow being involved in the “Russian hacking of our elections.” Thus is the official National Security narrative begun, and reinforced. Next up: Endless reiterations of the false and discredited accusations of rape and the horrified/outraged cries that this Australian and, now, Ecuadoran citizen, is somehow a “traitor” to a nation he has never been a citizen of.

Cue too the delighted squeals of liberals across the land as Assange, slayer of their goddess, is first surrendered to U.S. authorities, then perhaps carried in secret to some “rendition center” (possibly in Saudi Arabia?), there to be further tortured and denied the basic jurisprudence no liberal would countenance having removed from him or her. But then, as they will no doubt smugly remind us all, they would not be engaged in “espionage.” (What do they think doing the bidding of America’s shadow government for pay is — knocking on doors for the Welcome Wagon?) What, one wonders, will their excuse be when they are dragged from their homes in the early morning hours? For an unfortunate majority of liberals, the concept that one is innocent until proven guilty is merely a quaint remnant of unenlightened thought. How else could they have kept going for three years, with a concomitant waste of our national treasure, their inane (if not indeed actually insane) natter that Trump, in the face of no supporting evidence whatsoever, has been demonstrably guilty of this offense, or that?

I was deeply depressed by the news this morning. That depression has given way to intense anger. But although I am at present absolutely livid, I have seldom been more relieved than I am at this moment that I am not a Democrat.

And I have never been prouder of not being a liberal.
________________________________________

 *I had wondered often over the years, since the 1979 seizing of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, why, as the Shah was a Central Intelligence Agency-installed puppet, and as we are so often told by our elders and betters that the analysts employed by that Agency are non pariel, the C.I.A. was unable to warn the U.S. government to get its employees out of its embassy before the takeover. It has lately come to my attention that the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq during this crucial period was no less a personage than that chilling psychopath Richard Helms, one of the men most likely to have given the go-ahead for the assassination of John F. Kennedy. We may be forgiven, then, for entertaining the notion that Helms, no fan of Carter’s, knew what was coming, smiled that sneering grimace of his, and let it happen.


Text copyright 2019 by Scott Ross

Keep Gloating!

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By Scott Ross

My previous essay on this topic, from 2018:
https://scottross79.wordpress.com/2018/03/30/crucible/

At a rather woefully under-attended press conference at Duke University a few years ago, for a starry staged reading of Gore Vidal’s Civil War play On the March to the Sea, I asked Vidal how it felt to be nearly always correct about world events and to be consistently either ignored or traduced by what is laughingly called our free press. Vidal purred back, “The four most beautiful words in the English language are, ‘I told you so.'”

Although I have since become aware that this serene aperçu was one Vidal had used before, the wit and the truth of the remark are no less apt for repetition. Indeed, I have thought of it often in the last couple of weeks, since the odious Robert Mueller — predictably now beloved of the Clinton crowd, but only so long as he appears to be “going after” Donald Trump — announced that, after two years of costly investigation, there was no evidence the President had “colluded” (a word these types had never heard of before 2016) with a foreign government in the late, un-lamented, American election.

“Gloating” is a word much maligned in the language, and not without reason, as it typically denotes a sneering ugliness and self-regard unattractive at best and insufferably narcissistic at worst. There are, however, exceptions, and it seems to me that people such as Michael Tracey, Elizabeth Vos, Jimmy Dore, Matt Taibbi, Caitlin Johnstone, Jesse Ventura, Glenn Greenwald and Aaron Maté, who have from the very beginnings of this false, sordid and militantly partisan saga spoken or written about the subject with admirable skepticism and those rarest now of American journalistic virtues, thoughtfulness and reason, have more than earned the right to say, “I told you so.” That their voices were, and are, marginalized when not actively maligned, merely adds to their entitlement.

Naturally, and on cue, the very men and women who have been the loudest and most egregiously culpable in running a three-year scam against reason and perspicacity are now screaming that the Traceys and Matés of the world are “victimizing” the likes of Rachel Maddow merely by pointing out how knowingly duplicitous she has been. Maddow a victim? If so, she has certainly been well-compensated for her victimhood, unless you consider $30,000 a day scant recompense for self-induced martyrdom.

When I use the word “scam,” I am not being hyperbolic, merely realistic. As Dore is fond of pointing out, even a “jagoff nightclub comedian working out of his garage” was not fooled by the accusation, cobbled up by the cabal surrounding a Democratic candidate who was so disastrous she could not prevail against a self-regarding television game-show host to account for her eminently predictable (indeed, predicted) loss, even after taking control of her party’s operational arm and disenfranchising millions of voters in what looks to be the most monumentally fixed (and, predictably, un-punished) campaign in modern American history. A candidate, I might add, whose own machinations while Secretary of State, to sell uranium to the Russian Federation in exchange for a half-million dollars given to her equally corrupt husband, inspired her to employ the oldest trick in the political book: Deflection. “Don’t look at my dealings with Russia — look at him!” Anyone with a modicum of unaligned intelligence could see how transparently phony the whole business was. And indeed, as Jonathan Allen and Amy Parnes write in their book Shattered:

That strategy had been set within twenty-four hours of her concession speech. Mook and Podesta assembled her communications team at the Brooklyn headquarters to engineer the case that the election wasn’t entirely on the up-and-up. For a couple of hours, with Shake Shack containers littering the room, they went over the script they would pitch to the press and the public. Already, Russian hacking was the centerpiece of the argument. [Emphasis mine.]

The very word “hacking” is key. For well over three years, we have been treated to the absolute lie that John Podesta’s emails were “hacked” by WikiLeaks… or by Russian actors… when, as Ray McGovern and Bill Binney of VIPS (Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity) have proven, the information was not “hacked,” but rather downloaded internally — possibly, if unverifiably, by the now conveniently dead Seth Rich at the Democratic National Committee. That WikiLeaks does not “hack” information from anywhere but merely publishes documents provided to them by third parties is conveniently left out of the narrative of those I call the Professionally Piqued… all too often, I’m afraid, women over 50, so desperate to see a person with a vagina elected to the office of President in their lifetimes they were willing to back any woman, even one as demonstrably corrupt and right-wing as Hillary Rodham Clinton, for the position.

That Clinton herself, like her erstwhile boss, the appalling Barack Obama, is so beloved of the supposed “Left” simply proves how neoliberal, or perhaps merely unthinking and reactive, most of these people really are. In fact, I would categorize the brunch-missing Pussyhat Brigade as worse than neoliberal; their words and deeds during the last three years have revealed them as deeply, and dangerously, reactionary. Their incessant Red-baiting, when the Soviet Union has long been a distant memory for many, and a non-existent one for anyone under the age of 30, reveals not merely an ugly and insupportable strain of naked xenophobia (Keith Olbermann: “Scum! Russian scum!”) but a willingness to push America toward an armed confrontation with another nation that would endanger not merely the U.S., or Russia, but the entire planet, and no one more vociferously or blindly as the now seemingly irreparably and permanently deranged Rachel “Victim” Maddow. The alleged “Left” has shown itself, in the main, to be worthy of that worst of all epithets in a sane society: Reactively pro-war.

Nearly as bad — indeed, insupportable — has been the avidity with which these same pique-maddened types, busy with demonstrations in support of, first, James Comey (after they vilified him) and then Mueller, and their cohorts in the corporate media have ignored, when not actively supported, their own nation’s current drive to overthrow the elected president of Venezuela. That they do not organize marches in support of the heroic Chelsea Manning, pardoned by Obama yet currently languishing in prison for a second time or in support of the besieged Julian Assange is equally telling, although explicable: Manning’s revelations involved the Administration of their beloved Obama. And it was Assange, of course, their one-time darling (always providing he limited his exposés to Republicans) who published the damning evidence of Hillary Clinton hypocritically assuring Wall Street that she had a public face and a private one. This last sin of Assange’s is the one which is of course wholly unforgivable.

That their allies in the corporate press are, collectively, sanguine about the perhaps imminent rendition of Assange to almost certain imprisonment in America, likely for the remainder of his life, should surprise no one. It was, after all, the enactment of Bill Clinton’s hideous, proto-fascist Telecommunications Act of 1996 that heralded the end of a free press in America, the fruits of which are now visible in every corner of our lives in what we are permitted, in the land of the free, to see and hear about events both at home and abroad. Were there still a free press in the United States, beyond the pockets of genuine (as opposed to in-name-only) resistance on outlets such as RT America, The Real News, Johnstone’s Rogue Journal and Vos’ Disobedient Media, journalists everywhere — including in Europe generally and in the United Kingdom specifically — would be daily, if not hourly, decrying the forced exile and probable arrest of a publisher.

That they do not, and that we have surrounded Russia with our bases and missiles, and make daily incursions into its air-space, while reflexively accusing that nation’s every attempt to defend itself and its territories as “aggressive,” and that none of the voices in corporate media ever call out this insane and dangerous hypocrisy, is indicative of the ways in which the American news media are still very much the employees of the CIA. Anyone who seriously imagines that the exposed and reviled “Operation Mockingbird” ended decades ago is living in a dream. The rest of us, who get it, are alas living the nightmare. And I hereby, and with no courage whatsoever, predict that the very voices stilled in possible protest at our government’s persecution of a publisher will be squealing in dismay when they are under indictment by that same, anti-democratic, entity ere long. It only takes one case to establish precedent.

In brief, then, I say to Michael Tracey, Elizabeth Vos, Jimmy Dore, Matt Taibbi, Caitlin Johnstone, Jesse Ventura, Glenn Greenwald, Aaron Maté, and all the others who “got it right” three years ago when they said and wrote that the so-called “Russiagate” investigation was an edifice built on the finest sand: If you feel like gloating, gloat. If only to remind the members of a Fourth Estate largely now turned into a Fifth Column of the sentiments of the late Sage of Ravello.

We told you so.

Text copyright 2019 by Scott Ross

With Friends Like These: Phony Outrage and the 21st Century Progressive Heterosexual Male

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By Scott Ross

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In April 2018, posts from an old, deleted blog of Joy A. Reid’s surfaced, embarrassing the MSNBC host — who just last December was forced to apologize for previous bigoted, anti-gay comments — anew. Those posts, from 2007, unearthed by Jamie Maz and re-posted on Twitter, concerned John McCain’s potential Vice-Presidential pick, Charlie Crist. In them Reid continually referred to the former Florida governor as “Miss Charlie,” and indulged in tired “faggot” stereotypes meant to impugn his masculinity — a tactic both impossibly passé and, curiously, still much in evidence, usually among what is laughingly referred to as the religious right… and smirking liberals. Since Reid presents herself as a liberal (she used to call herself progressive, and even plumped for Bernie Sanders, until he had the sexist effrontery to exercise his rights as an American citizen and run for President against The Chosen One) these remarkably recherché accusations of closeted homosexuality against Crist were more than humiliating to her; they were, potentially, ruinous to her now-lucrative career as a news actress. (Not ruinous enough, however; her self-contradictory “apology”… for remarks she claims she never made… appears to have been enough to save her. For now.)*

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Among the many ugly and appallingly insensitive remarks Reid made in these posts — which Reid, bizarrely, claims must have been written by others who somehow managed to “hack” a defunct and deleted blog site in order to distress her and which the internet back-up organization The Wayback Machine has verified were not — were, as Glenn Greenwald writes in The Intercept https://theintercept.com/2018/04/24/msnbcs-joy-reid-claims-her-website-was-hacked-and-bigoted-anti-lgbt-content-added-a-bizarre-story-liberal-outlets-ignore/, items “promoting the ugliest and most destructive stereotype of gay men as pedophile predators by suggesting that anti-gay attitudes are based in ‘concerns that adult gay men tend to be attracted to very young, post-pubescent types, bringing them “into the lifestyle” in a way that many people consider to be immoral’ and that ‘gay rights groups seek to organize very young, impressionable teens who may have an inclination that they are gay.’”

In a response as predictable as it was nauseating, Reid made the utterly insupportable (and, as it turns out, wholly unsupported) claim that “an unknown, external party accessed and manipulated material from my now-defunct blog… to include offensive and hateful references that are fabricated and run counter to my personal beliefs and ideology. I began working with a cyber-security expert who first identified the unauthorized activity, and we notified federal law enforcement officials of the breach. The manipulated material seems to be part of an effort to taint my character with false information by distorting a blog that ended a decade ago. Now that the site has been compromised I can state unequivocally that it does not represent the original entries.” The Wayback Machine, as noted above, un-categorically denies this spurious and self-serving assertion. http://blog.archive.org/2018/04/24/addressing-recent-claims-of-manipulated-blog-posts-in-the-wayback-machine/

Moving on from this easily-discreditable claim Reid said of these posts “being attributed to me” (emphasis mine) that “I genuinely (emphasis hers) do not believe I wrote those hateful things.” She then went on, bizarrely, to further damn herself as a lifelong homophobic dogmatist, recalling that some of her “closest friends” (shades, to use a deliberately pointed word, of “some of my best friends are Negroes…”) kept secrets “because they didn’t know what I would say, or if we would still be friends, or whether I would look at them differently.” Their secretiveness appears to have been wholly justified. Setting aside the inevitable question of just how “close” a friend must be who feels he or she cannot trust you enough to be open, especially concerning his or her sexuality, Reid’s attempt to justify her bigotry by asserting that, when she wrote these posts “a decade ago […] the country was in a very different place” are patently ridiculous. Alas, even her severest critics, as we shall see, follow directly on from that absurd statement.

Joy Reid thinks 2007 was “a very different place”? Try 1977, when I came out. Or 1987, when gay men were dying in their thousands, the President said and did nothing and the New York Times still refused to name their nearest survivors as anything but “longtime companions.” That country was “a very different place.” But a mere ten years ago? All these types mean — and you will see a sick-making plethora of examples of this historically ignorant thinking in the commentary of the young men I cite below — when they claim the country is not now what it was then is that, in 2007, there was no same-sex marriage. That is the sum total of their knowledge of the long fight for basic rights among gay Americans, a struggle which did not begin at Stonewall, but for which that watershed June 1969 event serves nicely as a foundation stone from which to measure modern progress.

And if I seem, once again, to be pillorying Millennials exclusively here, as I did in my previous essay concerning the current unthinking misuse of language, it is merely because the more interesting of the current crop of progressive YouTube commentators are, by and large, of that demographic. Reid, even at her most absurd, at least opines that she (still resolutely clinging to her central lie) hopes that “whoever corrupted the site recognizes the pain they have caused, not just to me, but to my family and communities that I care deeply about: LGBTQ, immigrants, people of color and other marginalized groups.” This, troublingly, actually puts Reid one up on the majority of young, heterosexual male progressive commentators, who, taken as a whole, never give a thought to any gay person’s feelings. It is as if they presume all of their followers are heterosexual. And for them, the latest edition of The Reidcapades represents only one thing: An opportunity to gleefully point up her hypocrisy.

Kyle Kulinski, on his 30 April “Secular Talk” video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HURRxvspz9A, wisely points out that Reid also Tweeted some of those old comments she now pretends she didn’t write. (Joy: “I couldn’t imagine where they’d come from, or whose voice that was.”) As a grammatical side-note to this piece I will point out that, should he ever see his remarks in transcript, Kulsinki’s millennial overuse of the empty filler word “like” ought to shame him into, if not silence, at least recourse to a professional speech instructor. I doubt it will. Nothing else appears to shame the man. (Although he certainly knows that MS-NBC is “shameless.”)

Kulinski remarks, “I give less than no fucks about what she said back then… akin to, like, me and friends of mine, who, when you saw something you didn’t like, in, like, high school, your reaction was, like, ‘Gay.’ Now, as South Park brilliantly points out, that doesn’t mean that, like, when somebody like me was saying that, I was saying, ‘Hey, being a homosexual is inferior, and wrong, compared to heterosexual.’ No, it’s something that developed over time, that become de-coupled with being hateful…” [Emphasis mine.] Since I have not seen the South Park episode in question, I cannot say with certainty what the intentions of Messers Stone and Parker were. However, given my past exposure to the series, I cannot believe those two would go out of their way to create an episode whose point is that it’s OK to say, “That’s so gay,” as long as you don’t actually mean “homosexual.”

“But,” Kulinski continues, digging his own grave with a fervor that recalls Joy Reid at her least self-aware, “that doesn’t mean that I haven’t at times, in jest, said, ‘Gay,’ or at times you would say to your friend, ‘Faggot’ — if you want to have an impact and hit him, ‘Faggot.’ Would I do that now? Probably not [emphasis mine]. But I would vehemently deny that when I said those things that was me being anti-gay, because it’s simply not. You can say those things and be, y’know, not politically correct but at the same time you’re not saying what people insist you’re saying…”

“Probably not.” Which I take to mean, “I might.” With the smug, tacit assurance that we would all, like, know, he didn’t, like, y’know, mean it.

“I’m in favor of gay marriage,” Kulinski foes on. “I’ve always fought for gay rights, but at the same time I also don’t bite my tongue…” [Emphasis mine.] In case you miss the point, the enlightened Mr. Kulinski is saying, “Don’t tell me I can’t say ‘faggot’ when I want to.”

With friends like these…

And I for one would like to see his battle-wounds for his gay rights “fight.” I’ve got 40 years worth of them, Kyle. All interior, I should add… so far. No one “fights for gay rights” only to claim for himself the right to say “faggot” when he chooses. No one but a hypocrite. You’ve only to substitute “black” for “gay” and “nigger” for “faggot” to comprehend how ludicrous Kulinski’s insupportable position is.

That Reid is a hypocrite as well does not let Kulinski off the hook he baited for himself, and on whose barb he so eloquently flounders. It isn’t, you see, what Reid said that matters to the likes of Kulinski, only that she denies saying it. The lie is all that signifies. He actually seems to believe, despite the explicit evidence before him, that, because Reid says she’s now an ally, she is, ipso facto, no longer anti-gay. This self-ordained liberal-humanist-progressive champion and pundit (or, to use the term so often bandied about by the likes of Kulinski, “pundint”) is incapable, in his indifference to the hatefulness of what Reid wrote, to sense what is most obvious and salient about her: The woman says anything… if she thinks it will help her earn a paycheck. She was pro-Sanders, before he ran against The Queen; demonized him after. Because her bosses determined the contours of the debate, from which none shall deviate if she wishes to keep getting those lovely $30,000-a-day paychecks. Even little Kyle admits Reid is “a liar.” Yet he’s certain “she’s on the right side of those issues now.” Who says she is? She does.

For Kulinski, the issue at hand isn’t the ugly, hurtful, appallingly insensitive slurs Reid hurled. No. “The problem is that she’s a goddamn liar.”

Meanwhile, the allegedly upright Jordan Chariton reveals (also on 30 April) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKWerJ0aTyo that he, like Kulinski, cannot see the hideously tangled forest for the more obviously stunted trees… nor his own homophobia, even as he speaks it.

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“Do I wish anything ill will [sic] towards [sic]” Reid, he asks? “Absolutely not, I’m not that kind of person.” So what “kind of person” is Chariton? Like Kyle Kulinski, not the kind of person who is in any way comfortable with faggots. For Chariton, “If Joy Reid wrote nasty things about homosexuals, over a decade ago, I would think it’s a bad thing…” Well, there’s a ringing endorsement against bigotry. And “homosexuals,” please note, not “gay men.”

Again we see that mantra, “over a decade ago.” A decade ago was still well into the 21st century. But such progressives as Chariton don’t think they, or liberals generally, should have (to use their curiously un-ironic phrase) “evolved” on gay issues, I would suppose, before 2015, the year in which the Supreme Court found for the plaintiff in Obergefell V. Hodges. This seems, on evidence, to be a problem of perspective for many Millennials; what they themselves did not live through, they know little to nothing about. They’ve heard of AIDS, one supposes, but do not seem to understand its monstrous impact upon one especially vulnerable community, nor do they object when a hypocritical shill like Hillary Rodham Clinton, sensing a means of inserting herself into an obituary, praises Nancy and Ronald Reagan for “helping to start a dialogue” on a plague whose acronym neither would utter publicly and whose toll among gay men was so pronounced, and so devastating, that, after 1996 the National Mall could no longer host the AIDS Quilt as it was then constituted because its vastness was simply beyond the means of exhibiting in one place.

Further, “homosexuals” is a word which, revealingly, this progressive uses repeatedly, even as he rushes to assure us he “never had a problem with” his — presumably countless — gay friends. Even when Chariton does utter the word “gay,” he invariably stumbles over it, saying, “homo” first before correcting himself.

This, ladies and gentleman, is what, in poker and bunco circles, is called a tell.

“Joy Reid’s said a lot of bad stuff,” Chariton bravely observes. “And, by the way, I’ve probably written things ten years ago that I’m not proud of. We probably all have.” Speak for yourself, Chariton. I have written nothing about others in the last decade which it shames me to recall, or that was offensive to any racial, ethnic or even religious group (no mean feat for an atheist who is pretty much fed up to the teeth with the God-boys, few of whom exhibit the same restraint toward him). Nor to any sexual or physiological (so-called) “minority” within the wider culture. Why? Because, aside from not wishing to offend, and being aware that it is not kind to use language that is insensitive to others, I choose my words with care. Does Chariton?

“Let’s not be hypocrites here,” little Jordan concludes. “We can’t hold anyone to a perfect standard… We’ve all written things we’re not proud of.” I hear in this an echo of liberal Democrats and their “purity tests”: Expecting an alleged liberal to not write a string of deeply offensive remarks is, somehow, holding her to a “perfect standard” When, in your opinion, Mr. Chariton, does someone like Reid actually step over the line into hatefulness and bigotry? When she suggests queers should be murdered?

This story, Chariton claims, is not about someone “evolving, or not evolving.” Again, for him, as for Kulinski, it is only the lie Reid tells that matters, not what she is lying about.

Even those young progressive men with largely impeccable track records stumble over this one. David Doel, in his 25 April “Rational National” video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4fN0HkeOpo,  of the initial December 2017 story anent the catty Crist pieces Reid wrote on her old blog, “I didn’t cover it — because I didn’t think it was a big deal.” I submit that Doel might have thought it “a big deal” if he was gay… or genuinely cared about how gay men and Lesbians are vilified. He, no doubt, would protest that he does care, but his words belie his supposed progressive humanism.

David DoelDoel then quotes one of Reid’s more nauseating statements, to wit: “By screaming [as in “screaming queen”?] so loudly about making gay marriage a kind of litmus test for true progressives and humanity, they have embraced a fight that only a small sliver of the population can relate to, and put their credibility on the line by painting Barack Obama as an enemy, at a time when most Americans consider him their only hope.” A clear progression backwards, from todays’ phony “Resistance” to yesterday’s “Help us, Obama-Wan, you’re our only hope.” One begins to forgive Sarah Palin her “hopey-changey” crack.

To Doel, “Back then, it was more normal to think this way.” And by “back then,” remember, we are referring to the late-2000s! Doel fares better when he plays a staggeringly tone-deaf clip from — of all people — Jon Stewart regarding Dennis Kucinich’s genuinely progressive views on gay and transgendered rights, and whether he would nominate a gay man, Lesbian or transgendered person to the Supreme Court. (He would.) Stewart’s response? “All rise for the Honorable Justice Chick with Dick.” Doel correctly praises Kucinich (and other leaders, like Sanders, who has, from the early 1970s, always been an ally) for being on “the right side of history,” even as they were being made fun of for being so… and not merely by conservatives. As he notes, we might have expected so crude a joke from the likes of Dennis Miller. But from Jon Stewart? So when Doel refers to 2004 as “back then,” I begin to comprehend: For a 20-something Millennial, ten years is nearly half his lifetime. It’s nearly unfathomable, the way 25 years was to me when I was a child.

Doel does, correctly, hoist Joy Reid with her own petard when he quotes one of her own Tweets, in which she smirked at a Trump nominee, “Nobody tell her about The Wayback Machine.” Doel adds, “She should have taken her own advice.” However, to again quote his own words, he did not cover the December 2017 story because he “thought it was a nonstory… The issue here is that she is lying.”

At the risk of beating a horse not only dead but on its way to the Alpo cannery, Doel might care if he was gay.

But he ought to care anyway.

On his subsequent 30 April video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUugKeIqsiY, Doel doubles down on his blind heterosexist obsession. “My issue with Joy,” he says, “isn’t that she once held these backwards views on the LGBT community, because a lot of people did.” Once again, a young man equates 2007 with ancient history. And even if, as he avers, “a lot of people” held such retrogressive views that decade so long, long ago, does he also believe that such a mass should be excused for having them? I would submit that, if the targets of Reid’s remarks had been any group other than gay men and Lesbians, Doel would, quite properly, pillory them for the short-sighted bigotry they represent. No, to Doel, as to Kulinski, the problem is not Reid’s horrendous — and hideously rendered — prejudices. The problem is only that “she didn’t own it to begin with.”

On this follow-up video, Doel is joined by his dithering unseen partner Mary (or “@MarysR00m, Artist”) who, in extempore, makes Kyle Kulinski sound like a Rhodes Scholar and whose weird “co-hosting” is at best a puzzlement. Speaking of the gay community, Mary opines: “Like, they know the way things used to be. Like, they are understanding.” (I would quote Mary in greater detail but, like, I just, like, can’t because, like, I could, y’know, like, vomit?) No, Mary, we are not “understanding.” We are fed up. We’ve heard bigots of Reid’s ilk all of our lives. We no longer pat them on the head, or pity them, or “forgive” their loud-mouthed impugning of us — the smug Rachel Maddow, who gushed about her MSNBC coeval’s splendid honesty notwithstanding. And while I am aware that by harping on this at such length I am inviting comparisons to a broken record (ask your grandfather) if 2007 is your yardstick for measuring “the way things used to be,” I respectfully suggest you open your mind a little further and try to comprehend that a mere decade ago is not concomitant with recalling the Punic Wars.

By the end of this mind-numbing conversation, Doel returns to his well-warmed theme: Reid “forgets the homophobic views she held in the late 2000s.” [Emphasis mine.] “We know she’s lying. That’s the problem here.”

“The problem here,” it seems to me, is a young heterosexual male being selectively incapable of empathy.
Relief of a kind comes with Thomas’s 25 April video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57Gc-2gkNio, but only of a kind; such respite is mitigated by the more than occasional cringe once experiences while listening.

Thomas hqdefaultThe first such wince arrives early on, when Thomas observes that what Reid wrote was “kind of homophobic” (emphasis mine) and that she herself was, “somewhat homophobic.” (Ditto.) “Kind of,” Jamarl? “Somewhat”? The way Jesse Helms was “kind of” a racist? The way Ezra Pound was “somewhat” anti-Semitic? (Although here I will grant that that exposure to Thomas’ commentaries has convinced me that he is seemingly incapable of, as my junior high school journalism advisor commanded, making war on modifiers.) He does, however, correctly observe that, “If a right-winger said [what Reid did], there would be outrage.” Yet he reminds us that he finds “some of this funny,” reserving his disgust, as with his contemporaries among the YouTube commentator class, for the hypocrisy of Reid and the identity-driven DNC.

Later he, quite properly, leaps with glee on Reid’s “I’m not homophobic; I have gay friends” remark, correctly linking it to the old “I’m not racist, I have black friends…” ploy as a prime example of paralogical political thinking. But that Thomas is black should not be the reason he alone recognizes the kinship between Reid and other types of bigots.

Yet as with his YouTube coevals, Thomas too imagines a Reid apology in which she admits to writing such ugliness “in the past, when it was somewhat more socially acceptable to say such things.” “In the past,” in this case, as I have pointed out repeatedly — if not at this point obsessively — means a mere decade ago. We are not, as is often the case with historically narrow viewpoints, referring to something said, or written, in the 1800s, or even the mid-1900s. Thomas is, like Kulinski, Chariton, and Doel, apparently incapable of understanding that 2007 is not The Dark Ages. America had by that point already experienced Stonewall, Anita Bryant, the murder of Harvey Milk, the acquittal of his killer, Ronald Reagan, the AIDS pandemic, Jerry Falwell, Jesse Helms, The NEA Four, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue,” Fred Phelps and “God Hates Fags,” the murder of Matthew Shepherd, Brokeback Mountain, Milk, and the very public coming-out of Ellen DeGeneres and Neil Patrick Harris (among others) well before the turn of the century. 2007 is a mere wisp across the roiling surface of modern time. It is as yesterday.

To his credit, Thomas reminds his viewers that Reid already admitted, in December of 2017, that she had written such things. Yet while he refers to the Wayback Machine refutation of Reid’s spurious claims, he does so merely as a preface to the inevitable theme: Again, it is not the words she wrote, but her denial of them now that is the crux of the matter.

Thomas does, however — and nearly alone among his coevals — see through Reid’s phony righteousness. “I am more inclined to believe,” he notes, “that this is just the way she is, and just the way she was.” That at least is a step ahead of the simpering benefits of the doubt Chariton and others extend to her. Thomas further asserts that Reid’s perspective is merely one of party, and “problematic” for her because she is a mouthpiece of the Democrats, whose members “hug identity because they don’t want to deal with other issues… the economic realities of those identities.”

Yet, on his subsequent 28 April video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSyU19iWDN4, Thomas again finds Reid’s persistent speculation, bordering on obsession, with, and bitchy “jokes” about, Charlie Crist’s sexuality “funny but fucked-up.” While Thomas is a humanist, his susceptibility to sneering “jokes” about another man’s sexuality limit that humanism to a purely heterosexual — if not, indeed, heterosexist — perspective. If he had spent any time in the skin of a gay male bombarded from childhood with ugly, emasculating japes, or a Lesbian (or even a somewhat androgynous or “butch” looking straight female) subjected to the correspondingly-gendered jeers, I doubt he would find anything remotely amusing about such junior high school bullying. As with Kulinski, Chariton and Doel, Thomas exhibits in this area an alarming lack of empathy, something one would think was de rigeur intellectual and emotional equipment for anyone calling himself a humanist or a progressive. But then, even the redoubtable Jimmy Dore is prone, when angry, to label this or that professional hypocrite a “cocksucker.”

Thomas further asserts that Reid could say, “It was acceptable, during that time, to say bad things about gays,” and that she merely took advantage of that. I don’t wish to belabor this, or to pillory Thomas at length, because he is not only far more relaxed and open-minded than most of his “progressive” compatriots on gay issues generally — and, specific to Reid, he alone at least states that it is not, as Reid asserted in 2009, “intrinsic” for heterosexuals to believe that “homosexual sex is… well… gross” but, like racism, “societally-driven.” He also points out that the worst of Reid’s commentaries during this time lay in her assertion that gay men are intrinsically pedophiles and predators seeking out “impressionable teens.” (I’ll let pass for the moment the fact that most people in the English-speaking West have no notion that there is a vast difference between a pedophile and an ephebophile, as witness the ubiquitous assertion that Judge Roy Moore, prone to hitting on well-developed 17-year old girls, is a “pedophile.” Or, further, that there is an equally broad distinction to made between an alleged pedophile and a rapist.) Still, Reid’s “Miss Charlie” epithet for Crist is “funny” to Thomas. And again, it wouldn’t be, if he was gay… or even empathetic enough to place himself in a gay man’s shoes. On the other hand, he maintains that Reid’s “pedophile” comment was “ghastly”; Kyle Kulinski never mentioned her use of such wretched stereotypes, nor did Jordan Chariton, or even David Doel. Only Glenn Greenwald — naturally suspect, I suppose, because he is himself gay — expressed outrage about that.

Yet while Thomas is entirely correct in his observation that Obama “evolved” on same-sex marriage in 2012 the minute the polls ran in its favor (just as his putative successor did in 2016) he lets Reid’s viewers off the hook by asserting of Reid that “if this is your disposition, and if people watch you knowing this is your disposition,” then doing so presumes she isn’t lying to them. But why would we assume this? Dissembling is what a hack does.

Cenk Uygar (who, of course, is not a Millennial) in his 5 Dec. 2017 video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e81J44QlKA4 defends Reid’s outing of anti-gay, Republican politicians. But her “outing” of Crist — always presuming he is homosexual, which he still denies — is one thing; feminizing him and employing the rankest queer stereotypes in order to do so, is quite another. In common with so many of his compatriots in the progressive movement, Uygar too lacks not merely an empathic perspective on homosexuality but betrays as well a rather stunning inability to perceive what is directly in front of him. But then, what can one expect from a man who backed Sanders in the primaries only to succumb to Trump Terror in the general, peddling fear and exhorting us all to vote for the more evil of the two lessers in that race, a woman he had to know was not one whit less reactionary, or frightening, than her opponent.

The most Uygar can muster, when quoting Reid’s disingenuous claim that “At no time have I intentionally sought to demean or harm” is to chide her as “over-zealous in prosecuting the case against Charlie Crist.” (I hear now, in my mind’s audio theatre, Robert Klein, anatomizing Watergate and citing the ubiquitous use of the term over-zealous: “Or O-Z, as we call it in the profession.”)

Uygar of course is, as usual, incapable of any such appreciation of irony.

Alas, even the otherwise estimable Gordon Dimmack, in his 25 April video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rI6VTjJXoac, reminds his viewers that Reid’s blog posts, written “a decade ago… could be considered [emphasis mine] homophobic.” I cannot determine Dimmack’s age, but he appears to be in his late 20s or early 30s and thus a possible Millennial. In any case, this ordinarily keenly perceptive young man simply cannot see Reid’s utterly despicable snark for what it was. I find this as astonishing in its way as I did a local NPR news director’s frequent assertions on his broadcasts throughout the spring of 2016 that the North Carolina General Assembly’s notorious House Bill 2 contained provisions “some say are discriminatory” against transgendered citizens when the bill’s sole purpose was legalized discrimination, and everyone knew it.

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Dimmack and I agree, however, when he avers that he is only surprised Reid didn’t claim the Russians hacked her old account; had The Wayback Machine not refuted her claims, I suspect she’d have gotten around to it in due course. And he does point out that Reid had already admitted writing previously cited statements and apologizing for having done so. Further, he absolutely nails her hypocrisy when he notes that Reid has not made similar comments about Crist since he switched from the Republican to the Democratic Party. He also cites her queer-baiting of celebrities such as Anderson Cooper and Tom Cruise in a manner that points up how obsessed she is, or (to give her a wholly unmerited benefit of the doubt) has been, with homosexuality, and correctly notes that alleged lefty “social warriors” like Reid only ever criticize those they don’t personally like… or who are in the “wrong” political party.

Nor does An0maly, in his 28 April video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_F1CxY8oOoo, reassure.

While this weirdly iconoclastic Millennial performer quite properly cites Reid as “delusional” and exhibiting a “complete lack of self-awareness,” he can only offer a limp “I guess her blog posts were homophobic.” As with Kulinski, An0maly claims that he “support[s] the LGBT community,” and — also like Kulinski — admits that he made similar ugly remarks when he was a “young and dumb” 18. Reid, however, was not a teenager when she wrote those posts. She was an established figure at the Miami Herald, a self-proclaimed political expert, and knew damn well what she was doing: Appealing to what she perceived as the (nascent or explicit) bigotry of her readers.

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An0maly does, however, quite properly assert that Reid’s own citing of a remark she made in college to a gay male friend directly contradicts her “I can’t believe those words were written by me” justifications, and that her apology is negated by her denying she penned the very words she did in fact write. “They have no shame,” he bemoans, “they have no accountability”; he further calls out what he deems the “pandering and phoniness” of the pussy-hat apologists as “delusional activism.”

On the YouTube Channel Pop Trigger’s 1 May video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UT5gyAkJMmo

meanwhile, the young (male) host Jason notes that Reid “had some blog posts from pretty much a decade ago that seemed kind of [emphasis mine] homophobic.” Once again we are confronted with a male Millennial “progressive,” this one presumably gay himself, who cannot perceive the evidence of his own eyes. No one in his or her right mind, giving Reid’s old posts even the most cursory of glances, could fail to see the militant viciousness of her remarks. “Kind of” homophobic? What would make them decidedly so? Actually saying “faggot”? After hearing this repeatedly, one strongly suspects the people commenting on these posts have not read them. They are responding purely to other commentaries. This gets to the root of what depresses one about social media generally, and YouTube commentators specifically: They don’t read. They merely react.

Concerning an item labeled, on Reid’s original blog, “Harriet Meyers and the Lesbian Hair Check,” Grace Baldridge, one of Jason’s female co-hosts, chimes in, “Okay, that’s fair.” The two then share a giggle. Grace, who is Lesbian, also thinks that “gay” as an epithet was acceptable, and doesn’t wish “to tear anyone down now” for their homophobic statements in the past. Again, we are talking about statements written a mere ten years ago. I won’t go so far as to label this young woman a self-hating Lesbian, but Jesus, Mary and Joseph! What does it take to get these kids to call a bigot a bigot? Actual blood on the woman’s hands?

Habibi maxresdefaultIt is with great relief, then, that we turn at last to Sahil Habibi, The Progressive Voice. On his video of 26 April he alone — significantly, the youngest-looking at least of all the Millennial male commentators cited here — calls Reid’s posts “homophobic” with no qualifier, ridiculing Reid’s claims of having been “hacked” in addition to her “disgusting homophobic past.”

Why is this young man seemingly alone in his ability to perceive the bleeding obvious?

I have always preferred the rank, explicit sexual bigotry of the right to the snickering public “acceptance” of parlor liberals like Joy Reid; at least we know who our enemies are. With Democrats — Sanders, Kucinich, Nina Turner and a select small group emphatically excepted — we never know.

Neither, it seems, do we really know about young “progressives.”

________________________________________

*It also, predictably, made the increasingly un-hinged Rachel Maddow gush like Old Faithful. But of course; these obscenely over-compensated types always protect their own… unless they’re on a rival network.


Text Copyright 2018 by Scott Ross

Articles concerning Joy A. Reid and which contain more of her posts from her defunct blog The Reid Report:

https://www.mediaite.com/online/exclusive-joy-reid-claims-newly-discovered-homophobic-posts-from-her-blog-were-fabricated/

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/24/business/media/joy-reid-homophobic-blog-posts.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/wp/2018/04/25/msnbcs-position-on-joy-reid-isnt-cutting-it/

https://theintercept.com/2018/04/24/msnbcs-joy-reid-claims-her-website-was-hacked-and-bigoted-anti-lgbt-content-added-a-bizarre-story-liberal-outlets-ignore/

https://twitter.com/Jamie_Maz/status/986674364979523597

The Leaping Sort-Of

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By Scott Ross

Sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s, the critic John Simon wrote a piece decrying the increasing incidence in American speech of what he called “the Creeping ‘You-Know’.” That it is back, and with a vengeance, can be affirmed to one’s sorrow if one spends any amount of time near, or at least in earshot of, Millennials. I suspect generalities… er, generally… but it seems, sadly, to be a truism that those under 30 sprinkle enough “you know”s into their conversation, casual and formal, to send the heartiest of seasoned grammarians into cardiac arrest. Where this lazy reliance on conversative filler — for that is what all those “you know”s represent — came from, or why it lay dormant for a generation or two before resurfacing to re-pollute the sea of communication I do not know.

Those of us who came of age in the 1970s have, as a generation, more than our share of faults, among them a deplorable social and political complacency that, at its worst, not only ushered in the era of Reagan but buoyed up the appalling ignorance with which his putatively liberal Democrat successors have fed the ravening beast of uncompromising neoliberalism and which, thanks to the Clintons and Mr. Obama, have helped render America’s middle class poor, its poor destitute, and its rich wealthier than at any time since what Mark Twain with exquisite irony called The Gilded Age. And while the rape of the language runs a poor second to these excesses, I do not recall the brightest of us groping so aggressively, and helplessly, when putting our thoughts into words. That’s the thing: In my experience it is the brightest, and best educated among Millennials, whose throats are most commonly throttled by the Creeping You-Know.

Among the British — and, I must admit with sorrow, increasingly here — the Creeping You-Know has been superseded by what I call The Leaping Sort-Of. In a recent interview on the Real News network — one of the very few genuinely reliable sources currently operating in this our post-Telecommunications Act of 1996 world with its attendant vilification (when not outright crushing) of such actual journalism as still exists — the redoubtable Aaron Maté engaged in colloquy with the Oxford historian Eskandar Sadeghi concerning the house-of-mirrors belligerence of the Trump Administration toward Iran. As if the clips Maté includes in his twin segments of Mike Pompeo’s hilarious deflection (Iran, not the United States, is “the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism”) and the withering specter of an American Secretary of State threatening another sovereign nation like a schoolyard bully drunk on confiscated Juicy-Juice were not risible enough, Sadeghi’s commentary is littered with enough meaningless “sort of”s to offer succor to those among us, if such there be, who habitually complain that the educated speak too clearly for comprehension.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6zdmVz8FIM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZB-H051Qga8

The Leaping Sort-Of (along with its twin, The Pouncing Kind-Of) as it is currently constituted is a beast almost beyond comprehension. The people interviewed on television and video, and indeed those conducting the interviews, are supposed to be (even if they rarely are) aside from knowledgeable, intelligent and articulate… or at least as articulate as their viewers. While Maté is unusually poised and articulate, as indeed are a number of less celebrated (and, correspondingly, compensated) young voices on the progressive left such as the British Gordon Dimmack and the Canadian David Doel — his guest on this segment is, seemingly, incapable of making a simple declarative statement without muddying the linguistic waters by adding “sort of” to every noun or verb he utters. Sadeghi, in common with so many under the sway of The Leaping Sort-Of, has absolutely no awareness that he habitually undercuts his own otherwise cogent political analysis by his adamant refusal to come down conclusively on any point. There are, indeed, segments of his conversation with Maté in which he, dizzyingly, clusters as many as a half-dozen “sort of”s into a single sentence.

I don’t mean to pillory Sadeghi exclusively; he just happens to be the last victim of The Leaping Sort-Of I heard today. But the “selective part of an Arabic document” (he means of course selected; it was he who excerpted it who was selective) is not made any more concrete in its citation by being a “sort of selective part,” especially when it is used to “sort of imply that Iran had a long-established relationship with Al-Qaeda.” No. It either was a part of a document or it was not. It was either used to draw that inference or it wasn’t. There is no limbo area here.

Uttering “sort of” in this way, and doing so with such stuttering habitualness, does not bespeak nuance or care. It suggests that you are somehow terrified of making a simple declarative statement. And one is left to wonder why. Especially since very few of these types would ever write or publish a sentence as slovenly or ill-considered as the inconclusive rubbish they speak. Perhaps they have simply never spent a moment listening to themselves, or reflecting on how they sound to others.

And if they haven’t, then why in Hell should we listen to them?


Text copyright 2018 by Scott Ross

The long audition: Fosse, Me, and Sam Wasson’s “Fosse”

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By Scott Ross

“To be on the wire is life. The rest is waiting.” — Karl Wallenda, quoted in All That Jazz

(Warning: Memory ahead.)

Bob Fosse has been a touchstone in my life for exactly four decades now. That conscious connection was forged on my 13th birthday, in 1974. The night before, my parents took us to see a dinner theatre production of Cabaret, a show I’d fallen in love with via the Original Cast Recording, which I’d borrowed from the Olivia Raney Library in downtown Raleigh (gone now, alas, as is that dinner theatre.) The next day, a Saturday, my best friend Michael and I went to the movie, brought back for some reason nearly a year after its big Oscar ® win. (The soundtrack LP was another of my birthday presents that year, my mother not quite understanding the difference between it and a cast album.)

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At the time, I was a sufficient musical theatre novice that I preferred the show to the movie; I missed the “book” songs the movie’s producer Cy Feuer, the director Bob Fosse and the scenarists Jay Presson Allen and Hugh Wheeler jettisoned from the score; I also missed the Lenya figure, and her Jewish suitor. (She’s there, but her role is significantly diminished, her dilemma assumed in the movie by the Marissa Berenson character, lifted from Christopher Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin follow-up The Last of Mr. Norris.) I didn’t know, not having yet discovered Isherwood’s books, or the details of his life, how much more closely Cabaret on film dovetailed with his original stories, and with his own biography. But I loved the way the movie was put together; was amused by its nonchalant approach to sexuality; excited by the editing and by the choreography of the cabaret numbers; enthralled by Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli — and, although I didn’t yet comprehend why, with Michael York’s Isherwoodesque physiognomy.

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Michael York as Christopher Isherwood, more or less.
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Isherwood around the time of his days in Berlin.

I didn’t quite realize, not being fully conversant as yet with the possibilities of irony in staging musicals (and not having discovered Stephen Sondheim; that would come in a year or two) that what Fosse had made was not a traditional musical but a dramatic movie with musical numbers. Only later would I fully understand that by keeping the song-and-dance — save the ersatz Nazi anthem “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” — within the confines of the Kit Kat Klub, the filmmaker was able to exploit his stars’ talents (and his own) while keeping the action grounded in the drastically crumbling reality of 1931 Berlin and to comment ironically, as had Harold Prince in his original concept for the stage show, but here in purely cinematic terms, on the story’s arc and the characters’ predicaments, erotic and otherwise. I would come to ruminate on this aspect of Fosse’s Cabaret in due course, as I realized who I was, how my feelings for Michael had altered, and that he had his own very personal reasons, not yet shared with me, for his own amusement over the movie’s homosexual implications.

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Brian: Oh — screw Maximilian!
Sally: I do.
Brian (after a shocked pause, smiles): So do I.

The less personal, more thematic, revelations came to a head later, after seeing the movie again, on television in September of 1975. That infamous broadcast contained one of the most bizarre acts of censorship I’ve ever encountered, even to this day. I fully expected the movie’s many uses of the word “screw” (“Fuck” in the European release) would be axed, or over-dubbed. What I was not prepared for was that ABC, terrified of the moment in Cabaret that made explicit both Sally Bowles’ (Minnelli) and her erstwhile beau Brian Roberts’ (York) sexual involvement with Helmut Griem’s erotically ecumenical Maximilian, would simply drop the audio in the middle of the scene. At first, I assumed this sudden silence to be a technical glitch, but when the sound was restored immediately after that funny/shocking dialogue (Brian: Oh — screw Maximilian! / Sally: I do. / Brian [after a shocked pause, smiling]: So do I.) I had the uneasy feeling that something else was at play. And it was — the same Puritan impulse that would later greet Fosse’s Chicago, Dancin’ and All That Jazz: How dare he suggest that there was such a thing as sex in the world! Not merely, in George Carlin’s ironic phrase, “Man on top, get it over with quick” sex but transgressive, unusual, non-normative, non-procreative sex!

Dancin - Timothy Scott Valerie - Jean Miller. Cynthia Onrubia. Martha Swope

Timothy Scott in the Dancin’ first national tour, with Valerie-Jean Miller and Cynthia Onrubia. Photo by Martha Swope.

Flash-forward to December 1979 and my first trip to New York as a theatre-mad 18-year-old, seeing Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ at a matinee performance. Ann Reinking was out, as was her wont — although I intuited how exhausting the show must be, it was only later that I understood just how grueling that three-act marathon was for Fosse’s dancers — but the experience was transformative nonetheless. I was especially impressed by a brilliant young dancer who, coincidentally, shared two of my names; I simply could not take my eyes of Timothy Scott whenever he was on-stage. While he was, physically, definitely my “type” (or one of my types, anyway) it was his technique, his expertise, his energy and his sheer stage presence, especially in the “Big Noise from Winnetka” trio, that made him irresistible. (When I got home, I wrote him a fan letter; disappointingly, it went un-answered.) A trained jazz dancer, Scott seemed to me the perfect masculine embodiment of the Fosse style. And my own psyche was no less Art-and-Beauty orientated than Fosse’s, save that his concentration was on the female of the species.

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Timothy Scott’s Playbill headshot.

 

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Rowell Gormon, Life with Father‘s Reverend Dr. Lloyd, gave caricatures to the cast and crew as closing night gifts. In mine, he captured my Fosse phase perfectly.

Then, in the winter of 1980, All That Jazz. A movie that obsessed me to such a degree that, as stage manager of a little theatre production of Life with Father that season, my nightly exhortation to the troupe over the tannoy at the top of Act One was Joe Gideon’s somewhat shame-faced, “It’s showtime, folks!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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That summer I staged, and performed in, a pair of dances for a local revue, one of them my memory, not entirely accurate, of Cabaret’s “Money, Money,” for myself and my friend Lisa. Discovering that Fosse, who did not enjoy the usual and requisite ballet training of his peers and lacking the terpsichorean vocabulary to express to his dancers precisely what he wanted from them, charted his ideas through the use of stick figures, was an encouragement. Although I was far less conversant with the nomenclature of dance than Fosse, I was able to work out my choreography (such as it was) that way, and did. There was enough enthusiasm on that stage to make up for my choreographic inadequacies, but what mattered most to me was creating an homage to one of my idols.

In retrospect, I realize that my interest in Fosse began much earlier than my seeing Cabaret, at age 11, with the 1972 telecast of his Liza with a Z, one of the entities that conferred on him a still-unchallenged Triple Crown as recipient of the three major, nicknamed, show-biz awards (Oscar®, Tony®, Emmy®) in a single year. I just didn’t, at that moment, know who he was. I got a much clearer sense of him the following summer, on seeing his movie debut, the heartbreaking Sweet Charity, on television.

Liza with a Z (LP)


So, Bob Fosse: One of the handful of true American originals, and a repository of show-biz tropes that, yoked to what he saw as his own physical defects, became a style. Adored and, if not reviled, at least dismissed, in equal measure. Capable of astonishing on a regular basis, yet a simulacrum of his own limitations. Endlessly fascinating while, at one and the same moment, and in some elemental fashion, personally repellent.

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On that last point, I suppose Fosse joins a not so very select list; some of the creative artists whose work I most admire were, or are, problematic as people. As someone (sources vary) once noted, he who would eat sausages or respect the law would do well not to find out how either are made. The same holds true of admiration; best to maintain a distance, or risk discovering that one’s heroes possess feet of purest clay. That axiom presents a problem for those who, like me, are by nature intensely curious, particularly about the work they love and the people who make it. Although as a reader I am at best a sort of literary magpie, flitting from one shiny object to another, I am especially enamored of biography and what my best friend and I think of as “the backstage stuff.” Yet, do I dare find out too much about my idols?

Add this: The very nature of the human psyche and the human heart militates against complete understanding. How many of us fully comprehend ourselves, and our own motivations, let alone those of others? How far can empathy extend? How does even the most incisive, competent biographer make sense of what is, essentially, inexplicable? The best know they never can. Externals give clues, but clues only. And thanks to the various schools of psychology, and our own imperfect grasp of them, head-shrinking is now a game any number can play— and, alas, do. And the more noted the subject, the greater the impulse to analyze.

These personal, exhaustive (and, admittedly, exhausting) ruminations are occasioned by my having finished reading Sam Wasson’s fat biography Fosse (Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.) Wasson’s monograph on Blake Edwards (the wonderfully titled A Splurch in the Kisser) held me, even at its most academically pretentious, and his little book on Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.) was often enchanting. And given my nearly lifelong fascination with Bob Fosse, the pull of the book was damn near irresistible.

And so I have emerged on the far side of Fosse even more depressed than usual.

If that is explicable due to my own chronic condition, coupled with its subject’s love affair with death, it is so only in part: I’ve long been conversant with that aspect of Fosse’s psychology. Indeed, as a more-than-somewhat obsessive aficionado of All That Jazz my first, uncensored thought when I heard, in the autumn of 1987, that Fosse had died was, Well, he finally got to fuck Angelique. Less than Bob Fosse’s own darkness, then, it was the sheer, almost unrelenting, piling up of incident that got to me; six-hundred pages of neurotic dissipation can do that to you.

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But is that due to Fosse — or to Wasson’s Fosse? When I read Kevin Boyd Grubb’s Razzle Dazzle: The Life and Works of Bob Fosse in 1990 I was certainly moved, but the principal emotion I felt afterward was exhilaration — the sense that Fosse’s best work, seen on film or experienced in the moment, mitigated his darkness, even his death. But in Fosse, that very work is itself buried under the relentlessness of detail. The book is not a poison-pen biography by any means. Yet what you carry with you is, not the indelible imagery the man left us but the overall, debilitating miasma of his life… or, in any case, of the life Sam Wasson describes. In its way, Fosse is the literary equivalent of Star 80, the director’s 1983 meditation on the brief life and brutal death of Dorothy Stratten. The dread sets in early, and never abates.

The sense of unease begins with Wasson’s death-watch chapter titles, which open with “60 Years” and devolve from there; the last is “One Hour and Fifty-Three Minutes.” Any life can be measured in those terms, of course, and I suspect that no one would have appreciated those chapter headings more than Bob Fosse. They’re like those shock-cuts that recur in Star 80 and which so unnervingly portend a grisly finish that the viewer feels trapped in a hell too visceral to walk away from. This viewer did, anyway; the images, veiled and uncertain at first but attaining full and hideous definition by the end, still linger from my initial — and for far, only — exposure 30 years ago. Although I didn’t care a great deal for Lenny (Dustin Hoffman is a poor substitute for Lenny Bruce), Star 80 is the one Fosse movie I simply cannot imagine ever sitting through again. The infamous open-heart surgery in All That Jazz was a jolly romp through spring clover by comparison.

While Wasson sings the praises of Martin Gottfried’s Fosse biography All His Jazz and never once mentions Kevin Boyd Grubb in the text, his end-notes indicate that he has quoted from Razzle Dazzle extensively, if selectively. While it is true that Grubb’s book has been faulted for its errors, it at least had the virtue of having been written by an expert in dance, and not by a sexual neurotic: Gottfried, whose long and risibly suspect tendency to determine dread homosexual underpinnings in all things theatrical, and to oppose them rather hysterically, reached a kind of nadir in his review of Pippin which, notoriously, hailed Fosse’s staging as having returned choreography to a heterosexual norm at long, long last. The image one gets is of a Broadway theatre in which squads of screaming nellies, wrists limply a-flail, routinely invaded the stages of every musical, humping each other’s legs (and other body parts?) while Gottfried, aghast, watches, helpless and terrified.

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Blane Savage, Ann Reinking, Charles Ward and Sandahl Bergman in Dancin’, photogrpahed by Martha Swope.

Wasson too, despite his avowed adoration of movie musicals, seems curiously loathe to approach homosexuality in any direct manner. Which I suppose is my quaint manner of implying he is heterosexual, and uneasy. But for a field — dance — which has long attracted young gay men, that’s a striking omission. Fosse’s bête noire Michael Bennett is noted in the book as Donna McKechnie’s one-time husband, and later as a notable loss to AIDS, but the leap from one to the other is entirely mental on the part of the reader. As is Wasson’s citing of Fosse’s jealousy over Ann Reinking’s relationship, whatever it was, with the dancer Charles Ward; Wasson tells us that other Fosse dancers assumed Ward was gay, but elides over that, never acknowledging as Grubb does that Ward was, for many of Fosse’s Broadway corps, their first friend and colleague to succumb to the AIDS virus.

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Ben Vereen and the Players in Pippin.

Fosse was quoted (in a New York Times interview from the time of Pippin which Wasson ignores, and which Gottfried presumably never read) as — to use a certain recent Presidential term — evolving in his attitudes toward his gay dancers: “Always before if I found a male dancer I knew was homosexual, I would keep saying, no, you can’t do that, don’t be so minty there. This time, I used the kind of people they were to give the show individuality, and they were so happy about it. I think it helped the show.” In a book necessarily drenched in its subject’s sexuality and in his fascination with sex, this omission is telling.

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Fosse’s ambisexual corps in Dancin’.

I don’t mean to belabor the point; after all, Fosse’s heterosexuality is integral to his work, and to the dances he created that occasionally scandalized the prudes, much as Joe Gideon’s “Take Off with Us” routine in All That Jazz shocks his collaborators. But, again, the slow realization, by audiences as well as the characters on-screen in All That Jazz, that Roy Scheider’s Gideon has actually done it, that he is going to depict two men and two women dancing romantic and sexual pas de deux in a musical was, in 1979, one of those absolutely galvanizing movie moments, like the achingly almost-ménage à trois in Fosse’s Cabaret, that heralded not merely tense anticipation and a gradually released pleasure in those movies’ gay audiences, but a complete relaxation about erotic variation on the part of the filmmaker himself.

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The sexy, brilliantly staged, and acted, invitation to a menage in Cabaret.

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The mesmerizing male pas de deux in All That Jazz.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which brings us rather neatly to the major disappointment of Fosse: While film-freak Wasson illuminates the making of Bob Fosse’s quartet of movies — all that “backstage stuff” — with admirable detail and scholarship, the finished products are not treated with the same consideration. This, from an author whose previous books exhibited a boundless enthusiasm for movies and a keen, if occasionally academicized, grasp of critique, is puzzling at best. Yes, Fosse is long already, but if that were the editorial concern I would note that the Houghton Mifflin typeface is generous, and could surely have been reduced to a fractionally smaller font. Overviews are sometimes dangerous, but in the case of a book like this, they’re almost de rigeur, especially as Wasson is too young to have seen Pippin or Chicago or Dancin’, or even Fosse’s Broadway swan-song, Big Deal (let alone Redhead or Sweet Charity) and is thus at a critical disadvantage in conveying his subject’s theatrical achievements. None of Fosse’s later shows, aside from a rather poor, scaled-down Pippin, was videotaped for posterity, even in the now-standard archival format; you’d either have to have been there or be the sort of writer John Anthony Gilvey proved in his superb Gower Champion biography Before the Parade Passes By, to reproduce the sensation of those historic dances by and for those who never got the chance to see them. But film is (at least for the moment) eternal, and each of Fosse’s four movies is available for perusal, and rife for commentary.

Wasson seems so intent on the shock value of ending Bob Fosse’s history, and his book, at the very moment of his death that nothing is said about his legacy in the 26 years since he left us. Surely, a word or two, if only in an epilogue, is due what has been done with Fosse’s choreography, and his shows, subsequently: The popular revue Fosse, say, which  while preserving his choreography also misinterpreted and diminished it. Or the phenomenally popular “stripped-down” Chicago revival, little more than an elaborately staged concert but one that, nonetheless, proved the worth of the show decades after its chilly initial reception. Or the subsequent, rather facile and misguided (if massively popular) movie version, made by people (such as Craig Zadan) with impeccable backgrounds in musical theatre who nonetheless felt the need to “explain” why the movie had musical numbers. If you have to create a reason for the numbers in a musical, why are you making a musical at all?

Fosse is, despite these many cavils, a thoroughly engrossing book. Wasson’s many interviews with Fosse’s friends, lovers, colleagues and dancers give it an aspect of laudable completeness and verisimilitude. I daresay that few recent books on the theatre have had greater scope, and Wasson’s organization and arrangement of these disparate details is more than admirable. (Think how much he must have had to leave out!) He allows those who loved Bob Fosse, even as he exasperated them, full sway to convey their emotions, some of them remarkably fresh decades after the fact. He also gives Fosse’s more self-regarding detractors enough rope to hang themselves quite nicely: Hal Prince claiming Fosse ran his entire oeuvre off the energy of his, Prince’s, original staging of Cabaret. (What was Fosse doing, then, before 1966?) Or Stephen Sondheim observing that he never bought Fosse’s darkness as anything other than a pose, and judging that the man who turned his own, much-remarked upon, physical limitations into a style “saw the last 20 minutes of Follies” and made a career out of it.

It is, finally, the numbing piling-on of dissipation that is the chiefest aspect of Fosse, and the most dispiriting. Thesis biographies, like thesis plays, rarely get beyond a narrow point of view; the thesis is all. Thus: The endless sexual conquests that make Bob Fosse seem like a real-life version of the Dean Martin “Dino” character in Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond’s Kiss Me, Stupid, in danger of a headache if he doesn’t have sex with a different woman every single night of his life. The insistence, odd in a man whose love of and respect for women suggests a kind of nascent, if foot-scuffling, feminism, on his partners’ absolute erotic fealty to him even as he indulged himself satyrically… and even as he recognized the absurdity in himself. Yet the gentle, apologetic visionary of Shirley MacLaine’s memoirs, the driven soul whose genius could be ruthless and cruel even as he was begging everyone’s pardon for it (“One more time, please… Forgive me”) is in scant evidence here, as is the filmmaker whose apotheosis of style in the service of content, the magnificent Cabaret, won him a deserved place in movie history and whose self-lacerating All That Jazz stands as a model of staggeringly effective cutting. Instead, we get: The chain-smoking that reached such heights of madness that, during periods of intense working concentration Fosse often burned his own lips; the drinking; the drugs; the manic-depression. All of it doubtless real, and much of it contributing both to Fosse’s self-made myth and to his early demise… but much of it as well repetitious to the point of authorial obsession.

As an adolescent, allowed to perform in the appalling world of Chicago burlesque, Fosse was likely initiated into sex at an early age, and in circumstances so exceptionally ugly even he lacked the intestinal fortitude to depict them fully in All That Jazz. This may or may not account for his love/hate relationships with women, but it is undoubtedly horrid, and terribly sad, and may go a long way toward explaining his life-long struggles with suicidal depression. “In today’s world,” Fosse was quoted in the late ’70s, “everything seems like some sort of long audition.” For him, that call-back process may have had its central metaphor in the approach/avoidance of death, but that didn’t necessarily make his accomplishments deathish.

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The first page of Bernard Drew’s 1979 American Film article on Fosse and All That Jazz.


If my response to Wasson’s book seems excessively personal, that’s because it is. Bob Fosse’s work has meant so much to me through the years that I feel compelled to defend him against what is, in the end, a biography more interested in the man’s personal flaws than his measurable achievement. I’m also aware that my veneration of Fosse is entirely subjective, and selfish; his gradual physical debilitation, as much as his death, deprived me of what I most wanted from him: More.

There is a great deal to admire about Fosse, but I wish the man whose best movies turned my head around and altered my world and whose self-indulgent, occasionally vulgar but more often exhilarating Dancin’ I count as one of the seminal theatrical experiences of my youth, had gotten a more sympathetic biographer than Sam Wasson. “Sympathetic” in the sense, not of condoning his subject’s excesses as a man and as an artist or adorning him in mindless hagiography, but in the wider meaning: As one who expresses an understanding of the art itself, and knows that when dealing with a creative person the work, in the final analysis, is what really matters.

Everything else is just marking time.

1Bob Fosse – All That Jazz

Text copyright 2014 by Scott Ross

A much bigger circle: “Fiddler on the Roof” (1971)

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By Scott Ross

“For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

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The 1971 film transmigration of the 1964 Broadway phenomenon Fiddler on the Roof is arguably the most beautifully made of all adaptations from the musical stage, and certainly one of the most faithful. By filming it in as realistic a manner as possible, and as close to the birthplace of its progenitor, Sholem Aleichem, as the director, Norman Jewison, could get (Yugoslavia), the filmmakers honored the material as well, I think, as the source. What fell away, inevitably, was much of the very thing that made Jerome Robbins’ original so striking and even, in the terms of the musical theatre of its time, revolutionary. Any truly theatrical experience, play or musical, that exists in a heightened, stylized state can only be diminished by literalism. This is why any sane admirer of Follies, say, can only hope no movie ever gets made of it. Unless (as here) the material can support the transliteration, and the filmmakers are able to balance the inevitable losses with considerable gains of their own.*

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Boris Aronson’s set design for the interior of Tevye’s home. Note the circle of houses surrounding it representing Anatevka. Like the figure of the Fiddler, they are precariously balanced, even upside-down, but they hold.

Realism cannot take in, for example, the potent abstraction of Boris Aronson’s original Fiddler set. Inspired by (but in no way slavishly reproducing) the shtetl-based paintings of Marc Chagall, Aronson constructed a series of stage images that fully expressed the key concerns of Robbins and his collaborators: Not merely the sense of tradition (arrived at through Robbins’ insistent, necessary, question, “What is this show about?”) but the crucial aspect of the circle which binds the community, the people of the play, even the faith itself.

Great Performances

Zero Mostel’s Tevye leads the original company of the stage musical.

Nor can a realistic style encompass the inherent theatricality of the piece as a whole, especially as Robbins directed and choreographed it — as when, for example, in the opening, Tevye is suddenly joined by the figures of the villagers, hands linked, emerging from either side of the stage to create the circle that stands for Anatevka itself. A couple of songs in the Jerry Bock/Sheldon Harnick were also shed during filming, but their omissions are more than adequately compensated for by the filmmakers’ otherwise rare fealty to the score, superbly enhanced by John Williams’ rich, sensitive and often thrilling arrangements.

Thus, what was lost. (For some die-hards, the replacement of Zero Mostel with the earthier and less ostentatious Topol was likely also a grievous deficiency.) So what was gained? On a simplistic, yet pleasurable, level, the land itself — vast, verdant, arable, even majestic — and the physicality of Anatevka, especially the magnificently realized wooden shul with its stunning, intricate murals, glimpsed in the opening number and, at the climax, gazed at in anguished silence by Zvee Scooler’s Rabbi as he prepares to depart its walls forever. (In her splendid book Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of “Fiddler on the Roof,” http://alisasolomon.com/ Lisa Solomon reports that Jewison wanted the building preserved but, by the time he’d reached an agreement in Israel for its transportation it had, heartbreakingly, already been torn down.) And too, the pogrom that destroys the wedding of Tevye’s daughter Tzeitl at the end of the first act is, because of film’s innate ability to realistically depict such events (Cossacks on horseback, flaming torches, shattered glass, the shredding of the young couple’s gifts) far more gripping, and powerful, on the screen than it can ever be on the stage.

Tevye and his director: Topol and Norman Jewison.

The strength of photographic imagery in the movie of Fiddler begins almost immediately, and to the point; as Topol warms up “Tradition,” Jewison and his editors (Robert Lawrence and Anthony Gibbs) cut, in rhythm, to Anatekva’s various articles of faith as well as to the villagers themselves, engaged in their respective tasks. Not quite the image of the circle as enacted by the company on the stage, but each rapidly glimpsed clip sets, and reinforces, the theme of communal traditions as the glue that allows those in the Russian Pale of Settlement “to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking [their] neck[s].” Nowhere in the show, or the movie, of course, do the authors (Joseph Stein in his book and screenplay, Bock and Harnick in their score and, although un-involved with the movie, Jerry Robbins) suggest that the bending of ritual leads to the eventual expulsion of Anatekva’s Jews. It’s all of a piece: The advent of 20th century modernity and czarist anti-Semitism, conspiring by accident to alter the face, and form, of institutional observance. Tevye, seemingly the least hidebound of the older Anatevkans, bends, as he says, only so far. And although he is unwilling to break entirely, even he softens enough by the end to at least express his parting concern for his wayward daughter Chava, if only through the intermediary of his eldest, Tzeitl.

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Topol, that “huge dancing bear of a man” singing “Tradition.”

The one, indispensable, element of the movie’s strength must be accounted the performance of (Chaim) Topol as Tevye. As a Sabra the actor was, in common with many of his fellow Israelis of the time, not especially attuned to Yiddishkayt. (Indeed, many were entirely antipathetic.) But Topol’s size, his vigor, his warmth and his courage — as much as, when compared to that of Mostel, his smaller but no less compelling theatrical presence — bring him closer to us, and perhaps even to Sholem Aleichem. Pauline Kael, in her review of the movie, which she called “the most powerful movie musical ever made,” referred to Topol as “a huge dancing bear of a man.” That’s just about perfect, I think. Although the then-35-year-old actor was (if only slightly) younger than Zero Mostel when he first assayed the role, he carries with him an authority, and an expansiveness, that goes far beyond the touches of gray in his hair and beard. And while he is a far more handsome man than Mostel, sings better and more easily attains the higher notes without noticeable strain, what’s essential, even elemental, about Topol is the sense he projects of a man who, while firmly affixed to the appurtenances of his faith, is capable of elasticity — the flexibility a plant, however well rooted, needs to survive.†

Great Performances

The lyricist (Sheldon Harnick) and the composer (Jerry Bock) of “Fiddler.”

Essential, too, are the songs by Bock and Harnick. It is not merely fashionable to dismiss them; most of the show’s original reviews expressed reservations (is that the polite term?) about this immensely treasurable score. But as much as Sholem Aleichem himself, the Fiddler songs are inextricably linked to the show’s sense of identity, its abundant charm and humor, and its remarkable power. Bock, one of his era’s most accomplished musical dramatists, as at home in New York’s Tenderloin as in Hungarian milieu of 1930s She Loves Me, steeped himself in Yiddish folk melody and klezmer, and refracted it through the prism of his own exceptional composition acumen. While the ultimate tone of, and concept for, Fiddler (then called Tevye) was not set during much of the writing process there is in Bock’s supple, often yearning, melodies the concert of the shtetl, at once vigorous and elegiac. And they are perfectly complemented by Harnick’s alternately playful, moving, direct and ruefully funny lyrics all of which seem, as he said of his experience wedding his words to Bock’s music for “Sunrise, Sunset,” to “crystallize on the music,” as though there could be no other possible lyrics to any of those tunes. (Although there were, reportedly, dozens of attempts for every song that finally placed.) I’ve noted this before, but I think it bears repeating: If you think evoking Sholem Aleichem’s people, and place, and doing so while keeping in your mind the correct rhythms and cadences, and the needs of the performers, and making the humor or the pathos land properly and effectively on 1,500 minds and hearts and pairs of ears hearing them for the first time, is easy, then go ahead: You write something as effective as “Tradition” or “Anatevka.” I’ll wait.

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Norma Crane (Golde) and the Yiddish theatre star Molly Picon (Yente the Matchmaker). Note Picon’s playful signature.

Kael, who loved the movie in spite of what she saw as the “squareness” of Jewison’s direction and the (to her) Broadway jokes and disposable songs, nevertheless carped about the performance of Molly Picon as Yente the Matchmaker. For all her gifts, Kael sometimes seemed to go to inordinate lengths to separate herself from her own Jewishness. I don’t mean her less than laudatory remarks about Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah (with many of which I agreed — not least her complaints about its sheer, numbing length — but which got her in a lot of hot water with some readers and colleagues); I refer instead to her rejection of some of the richer veins of humor which American show business has accepted as a delicious gift from its creative Jews but which, for Kael, smacked either of special pleading or of unconscious self-abasement. She was hardly alone in this. Indeed, as Solomon points out in Wonder of Wonders, resistance to, and rejection of, Yiddish theatrical traditions lies at the heart of controversies that attended every mid-century attempt to place Sholem Aleichem’s stories on the stage; second and third generations of Jewish-Americans didn’t want all that schmaltz and inflection with which their parents and grandparents cluttered up a brave new assimilationist world. So, nu? But Yente — her very name a Yiddish convention — is, while admittedly an invention of the show’s book writer Joseph Stein, very much a part of the soil of the shtetl — indeed, its soul — at least as delineated by the creative team that put the show together. Even granted Robbins’ understandable aversion, as Solomon also tells us, to making his Sholem Aleichem musical The Return of the Goldbergs, who better to embody Yente’s very yenteism than Picon? As the one-time, undisputed queen of the Yiddish theatre (although when she began she neither spoke nor understood Yiddish) Picon knew this woman in her very bones; the kvetching and kvelling, the self-martyring geshrais, the constant smug (and self-justifying) nudzhnikness of a woman who is despaired of but never entirely dismissed (all those children to be wed!) Picon’s performance, always pleasurable, is especially — sorry, it’s the only word that will do — piquant, now that Molly herself is no longer with us.

No such grumbles greeted Norma Crane’s Golde, although Kael did complain that the role was under-written. Perhaps. But so is everyone’s, aside from Tevye; after all, the show is not called Hello, Golde! What Crane achieves in her limited screen-time is a highly believable portrait of a careworn, un-lettered woman of the earth with a great deal of love but no time for sentiment. Crane (who died, shockingly young, of breast cancer, three years after the movie opened) had an almost Classical beauty, but hers is no glamour-puss Golde. No-nonsense, she bears her husband’s mischievous wiles as she does her daughters’ unruliness: with a shrug, an exasperated bark, or a sighing aside (“You can die from such a man…”) Yet Crane’s strength of character is not merely admirable, it’s necessary. How else could a woman like her bear the vicissitudes of that life? And when she breaks, after Tevye orders her on the road to forget her middle child Chava, the effect of her normally ram-rod straight body, black-clad as though in mourning and whipped by the winter wind, bent double in hopeless despair, is harrowing.

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Maybe the most rapturous lovers in movie musical history: Leonard Frey (Motel) and Rosalind Harris (Tzeitel.)

As Tzeitl, the eldest of the three marriageable daughters (the youngest pair are marginal) the curiously beautiful Rosalind Harris makes an impression that can remain with you a lifetime. At a precocious 20 when the film was made, Harris carries herself with both a wry dignity and an open honesty of expression that she lingers in your memory long after Tzeitl’s major part in the family drama is over. And as her nebbishy swain Motel, the adorably tongue-tied Leonard Frey is utterly endearing. Frey, who played the Rabbi’s son Mendl in the 1964 production (and who would eventually graduate to Motel on stage) had just come off reprising his definitive Harold in the movie of Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band. Here, he is scarcely recognizable as the actor who portrayed that acid-tonged, “32-year old, ugly, pock-marked Jew fairy.” He nabbed an Academy Award® nomination for Motel (as Topol did for his Tevye) and one would have thought that, if he could successfully negotiate those two, wildly disparate, roles, the world should have been open to him. (Alas, it wasn’t, and he succumbed to AIDS at 50, in 1988, leaving behind the sense that an important career had, somehow, been thwarted aborning. By homophobia? Perhaps. Or maybe just the usual Hollywood myopia.) When he finds his voice at last, his serenading of Harris, and their delighted dance to “Wonder of Wonders” is one of the most rapturous numbers of its kind ever filmed.

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Bending, but not breaking: Perchik (Michael Glaser), Hodel (Michele Marsh) receive Tevye’s permission, and his blessing.

Michele Marsh, as Hodel, is a touch too conventionally cute, but she does convey the spirited independence of the role and sings a notably beautiful, poignant “Far from the Home I Love.” Hodel’s vis-a-vis, Perchik, is a bit of a pill in his ardent Socialist mania, which could make him a self-righteous boor in the wrong hands. Blessedly, Michael Glaser (later, as Paul Michael Glaser, the Starsky of television’s Starsky and Hutch) brings a kind of thoughtless, arrogant charm to the part, making Hodel’s eventual willingness to follow him as far as Siberia at least explicable.††

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Neva Small as Chava.

The third daughter, Chava is, in her way, crucial to the success of the narrative.  Her determination to not merely throw over tradition for love but to engage in apostasy, risking the eternal enmity and alienation of her beloved family and the entire Jewish circle of Anatevka, must be absolutely grounded or the increasingly troubling arc of the play’s darker second act can topple off its delicately balanced wheels. In Neva Small, Jewison found his ideal. In each of the show’s succeeding marriage stories, one gets the sense that these girls have been paying sharper attention to Tevye’s warm interior than his gruff exterior, and play off it in ways that place their father in ironic binds. But in the Chava story, that reading has not been nearly close enough; she pushes back harder, and more devastatingly, than she knows. Small somehow manages to embody both her father’s idealized vision of her (his “little bird,” his cherished Chavelah) and the less perfect self of reality. Inquisitive, keen, at once guarded and openhearted, Small’s face radiates intelligence and love in equal measure, making Chava’s eventual estrangement (and Tevye’s anguish) deeply, personally, traumatic.

Zvee Scooler lends his beautiful, gaunt face and gentle gravitas to The Rabbi.

Zvee Scooler lends his beautiful, gaunt face and gentle gravitas to The Rabbi.

The smaller roles were cast with similar care. Zvee Scooler, who played the innkeeper for the entire seven-year run of the play, makes a superb Rabbi. His gaunt, moving face and his gentle gravitas do much, I think, to take the curse off a role some Jewish commentators felt was too condescendingly comic on Broadway. Paul Mann’s Lazar Wolf, with his charmingly Santa Claus-like mien, is nicely judged as well, neither as boorish as Tevye at first believes nor as completely docile in the face of marital defeat as the peripatetic dairyman might hope. Louis Zorich likewise does wonders with the off-handedly anti-Semitic Constable who — in a scene added by Stein to the screenplay — makes agonizingly clear what Edmund Burke meant when he wrote that “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” (Well, maybe not “good” so much as halfway decent.)§ And the Welsh singer Ruth Madoc is an unforgettable Fruma-Sarah in the inspired dream sequence, wildly funny in her uncannily witchy ululations.

“The Dream”: Tevye and Golde menaced by Fruma- Sarah (Ruth Madoc.)

Which brings us rather nicely around to the strengths of Jewison’s imagery. Onstage, “The Dream” leaps from one form of heightened theatricality (Aronsons’ set) to another (folk-inspired ghost story.) In the movie the effect of the humor, and the quality of its tongue-in-cheek ghoulishness, in the midst of the filmmaker’s “square,” quotidian visual palette, is even stronger, and funnier. (There’s a shot of Topol reacting to Fruma-Sarah with knock-kneed terror that is especially uproarious.) It’s a folk nightmare, the colors de-saturated, the costumes and make-up both over-the-top and eerie. That push-pull of the pragmatic and the fantastic is also true of the sudden distancing effect Jewison goes in for when Tevye confronts his daughters’ romantic yearnings: Topol is seen at a vast remove, suspended in agrarian space between his core beliefs and his overmastering love for his children. But when he speaks/sings, “Look at my daughter’s eyes…” the director immediately closes on those expressive orbs, bringing Tevye, and us, instantly back to the crux of the material’s emotional center. Likewise, the gorgeously realized “Chava Ballet” is rendered as a hallucination-like reverie, Tevye’s sense of his immediate world crumbling in the face not only of modernity but of the inevitable loss a parent experiences when his children move, as they must, away from his sphere of influence, and love.

The

The “Chava Ballet.”

The famous

The famous “Bottle Dance,” inspired by Jerry Robbins observing a red-bearded trickster at a couple of Jewish weddings in 1963.

In his quest to hone Fiddler to its essentials, the director Jerry Robbins left the choreographer Jerome Robbins somewhat high and dry; that “Chava Ballet” arrived at its effective abbreviation only after a much longer, more frenzied and frightening, number outstayed its welcome. But Robbins at least had a first act topper in the famed “Bottle Dance” during Tzeitl’s nuptials. Inspired by a trick he witnessed a red-bearded wedding guest perform at two different Jewish weddings, the dance has since become so much a part of the Fiddler ethos that many assume it’s an actual freylekh. Having been fired from the movie of West Side Story for the very deliberateness that led his theatrical collaborators to despair but which enhanced his unique staging, Robbins was never truly considered to helm the movie of his most successful stage musical, so it was up to his assistant, Tom Abbott, to re-create the original choreography, and it’s nowhere more ebullient or felicitous as during the wedding. Not only the sinuous “Bottle Dance” itself but the entire sequence is informed by Robbins’ meticulousness in recreating the exuberant, uninhibited, even frenetic, merry-making he witnessed at various Jewish weddings preparatory to mounting the show. And it’s here that Jewison makes one of his few missteps. The dance is shot, and edited, too casually, denying us the pleasure of watching those limber bodies going through their joyous paces. This is even more obvious when watching the Canadian Broadcasting documentary about Jewison on the Fiddler DVD, when the CBC’s camera placement during the “Bottle Dance” trumps Jewison’s own. Dance on film is always a sticky problem. Fred Astaire felt, with no small justification, that the camera should be placed at a distance (and not further cluttered up by fancy editing) so the audience could appreciate the footwork. Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen concurred, and they never interfere with our enjoyment of, and exultation in, even the most complex numbers in Singin’ in the Rain. So documentary realism does have its limits, especially in musicals.

Fiddler on the Roof was, seemingly, a tough sell in the mid-1960s. Not only was the material overtly, even proudly, Jewish (as indeed were the Sholem Aleichem stories on which it was based) but its action embraced a pogrom and the saddest of all possible climaxes — the enforced expulsion of an entire people. In comfortable, and comforting, hindsight, one can always look back and say, of a hit, “Well, of course…” (I always thought John Simon was being more than slightly disingenuous when he opined during that decade that the most enormous possible sure-fire Broadway hit would be “a big, vulgar musical about black, Jewish homosexuals.” Simon’s target was theatrical parochialism, I know. But let’s not be ridiculous.) No, Fiddler was no sure thing, in 1964 or 1971. What sold it, and continues to sell it, was the collective intelligence, even genius, of its creators as much as — and I would argue, more than — the universality of the underlying material. The unwavering devotion of Robbins, Bock, Harnick, Stein and the original producer Harold Prince to telling this story well, and with scrupulous dedication to its shades of meaning within a specific confluence of humanity, was picked up, and codified, by Jewison & Co. in sumptuous turn. Those final, ineffably moving, images of a new Diaspora infused both with hope (in the amorphous forms of Palestine and America) and hopelessness (in the unutterable grief of the dispossessed that presages the Shoah) contain, in microcosm, everything that made, and makes, Fiddler on the Roof such an imperishable fact of life.

Exodus: The haunting finale.

Exodus: The haunting finale.

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*One of my five favorite movies is the 1972 Bob Fosse version of Cabaret, itself, under Harold Prince’s direction, a highly stylized show. But as Fosse and his collaborators re-imagined the material, hewing more closely to the Christopher Isherwood model and throwing out the “book” songs, it’s the exception that proves the rule. Especially as the name most often reported in connection with a movie of Follies is — saints preserve us! —Rob Marshall.

†Topol was the London Tevye in 1967, based in part on the producer Richard Pilbrow’s having seen his 1964 Israeli comedy Sallah (or Shallah Sabbati) and thus expecting to meet much older man. Topol, who had succeeded Bomba Zur as Tevye during the highly successful 1965 Israeli Fiddler, was not what you would call proficient in English before he starred in London, and it’s interesting to compare his performance on the movie soundtrack with that on the ’67 Columbia cast recording, as his inflections in the latter tend to Anglicized pronunciation: “You may ahsk” rather than “You may ask.”

††Glaser/Perchik lost out on a solo in the movie. Motel’s original number during rehearsals for, and early performances of, the show (“Now I Have Everything”) was eventually ceded to Bert Convy’s Perchik but Jewison didn’t think it right for the movie. Jerry Bock’s replacement melody, “Any Day Now,” is among the finest and most rousingly apposite he ever composed, and Harnick’s lyrics are in admirably quirky character. But the moment is a bit of a dead-end, and it’s probably just as well the number was cut. You can hear it, in Glaser’s somewhat over-taxed rendition, on the Fiddler soundtrack CD and the DVD.

§Zorich is probably best known for his role on Mad About You as Paul Reiser’s father Burt. From conductor of pogroms to befuddled Jewish pater familias — that’s one hell of a range.

 

Text copyright 2014 by Scott Ross