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Friday, July 21, 2006

ABF Friday Bonus Edition

Because we have not done enough traveling already this summer, Jamie and I are off to Syracuse to meet the author of this book and see what she says about his communication skills.  I will therefore postpone the next installment of Irish Blogging (Beckett’s Murphy is on tap for Monday) and devote the day to promiscuous linkdumping and an installment of our ever-popular Arbitrary but Fun stuff.

Link number one: Tony Judt with a provocative essay in Haaretz on the crisis in the Middle East.  Judt is quite critical of Israel’s conduct in recent years, and he even argues that

today, now that the history of World War II is retreating from the public square into the classroom and from the classroom into the history books, a growing majority of voters in Europe and elsewhere (young voters above all) simply cannot understand how the horrors of the last European war can be invoked to license or condone unacceptable behavior in another time and place. In the eyes of a watching world, the fact that the great-grandmother of an Israeli soldier died in Treblinka is no excuse for his own abusive treatment of a Palestinian woman waiting to cross a checkpoint. “Remember Auschwitz” is not an acceptable response.

. . . And so, shorn of all other justifications for its behavior, Israel and its supporters today fall back with increasing shrillness upon the oldest claim of all: Israel is a Jewish state and that is why people criticize it. This—the charge that criticism of Israel is implicitly anti-Semitic—is regarded in Israel and the United States as Israel’s trump card. If it has been played more insistently and aggressively in recent years, that is because it is now the only card left.

. . . But Jews outside of Israel pay a high price for this tactic. Not only does it inhibit their own criticisms of Israel for fear of appearing to associate with bad company, but it encourages others to look upon Jews everywhere as de facto collaborators in Israel’s misbehavior. When Israel breaks international law in the occupied territories, when Israel publicly humiliates the subject populations whose land it has seized—but then responds to its critics with loud cries of “anti-Semitism”—it is in effect saying that these acts are not Israeli acts, they are Jewish acts: The occupation is not an Israeli occupation, it is a Jewish occupation, and if you don’t like these things it is because you don’t like Jews.

In many parts of the world this is in danger of becoming a self-fulfilling assertion: Israel’s reckless behavior and insistent identification of all criticism with anti-Semitism is now the leading source of anti-Jewish sentiment in Western Europe and much of Asia. But the traditional corollary—if anti-Jewish feeling is linked to dislike of Israel then right-thinking people should rush to Israel’s defense—no longer applies. Instead, the ironies of the Zionist dream have come full circle: For tens of millions of people in the world today, Israel is indeed the state of all the Jews. And thus, reasonably enough, many observers believe that one way to take the sting out of rising anti-Semitism in the suburbs of Paris or the streets of Jakarta would be for Israel to give the Palestinians back their land.

As they say on blogs, read the whole thing.  My humble opinion is that it’s exceptionally thoughtful and judicious.  His remarks on the difference between 1982 and 2006, with regard to the general public awareness of Palestinian dispossession and the status of the occupied territories, are especially interesting.

Link number two: you’re surely familiar with the brilliant techno-video performance of All Your Base Are Belong to Us.  If you’re not, why not?  And if you are, please welcome this brilliant techno-video performance of All Your Snakes Are Belong to Us. Another important sign that we are now in the mature phase of the period cultural theorist Amanda Marcotte has designated as post-post-postmodernism.

You know, I love this here medium sometimes.  I’m a bit sad that all this “snakes on the Internets” stuff is going to prove to be much more enjoyable than the movie, but hell, that’s just the nature of post-post-postmodernism, I suppose.  Post-post-postmodernism:  the period that precedes itself.

Link number three: many thanks to the world-renowned skippy the bush kangaroo (who, it is rumored, may have coined a famous word of some kind) for continuing to read and recommend this blog even though it has fallen out of favor with the people who showed up on Monday to denounce its logorrheic anrcissism and its liberal moral cowardice.  Thanks, pal!  I truly appreciate it.

And speaking of anrcissism and cowardice, it’s time for the Arbitrary But Fun part of ABF Friday!

Before he contributed to yesterday’s comments with a fine reading of “Sailing to Byzantium,” Matt of the Tattered Coat replied to my last post by putting up a YouTube clip from The Big Lebowski.  Which (as I noted in his comments section) was quite strange in a lattice-of-coincidence kind of way, because I had just ordered a plate of shrimp, ah, I mean, rented The Big Lebowski earlier this week.  I had not seen it since it first appeared, and I never liked it.  That’s right, I never liked it. You may begin denouncing me for this precisely one half hour after the usual suspects get through denouncing me for quoting Tony Judt.  But I thought The Big Lebowski was, unfortunately, the film version of the exquisitely silly “I Just Stopped in to See What Condition My Condition Was In” (you remember, from the second Dude-dream sequence) spiced up with quirky-but-contrived vignettes here and there and a couple of mildly fun but sometimes tiresome rewrites of things like Chinatown.  Anyway, I watched it Tuesday night, and it was much better than I’d remembered.  Still too cloying, and the ending is just terrible, but on the whole, more than tolerable, with some very very fine moments.  I don’t know why I was quite so pissy and ungenerous the first time around.

But that’s not the point.  The point is that the local Hollywood video store didn’t have The Big Lebowski in the comedy section.  They had filed it, instead, under “Cult Classics,” a category so fascinating and internally various that I spent fifteen minutes checking it out—and eventually deciding that it was a good time to see Repo Man again after twenty years.  (The interval is due not to the fact that I didn’t like it the first time around but to the fact that I practically memorized it first time around.) Sure, Repo Man falls apart completely in the final twenty minutes, but who cares?  It is iconic.  It is cult.  It has the Circle Jerks.  And I would so pay twenty dollars to see it on the big screen in a double feature with Liquid Sky.  Just let me know when and where.

OK, then, The Big Lebowski and Repo Man.  Cult classics, even though Lebowski was a major-studio release. Donnie Darko, right.  Eating Raoul, good to see that old chestnut in there, with its delightfully strange performances from Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov.  Speaking of Bartel and Woronov, Rock and Roll High School.  Memory lane, that one.  And, of course, the transvestite granddaddy of them all, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

But then my eye fell upon Napoleon Dynamite.  A lovely and often hilarious little film, no question, but is it really a cult classic already?  I mean, what about the test of time and all that?  Shouldn’t Napoleon Dynamite have to wait at least five years before it is inducted into the Cult Classic Hall of Fame?

You see where this is going.  I speak of aesthetic brilliance one day, and now I’m demanding that works of art be measured by the test of time.  Next thing you know, I’ll come out in favor of Western Civ courses, and then I’ll never be able to show my face in the Cultural Left Café again.

Oh, right, I’ve already come out in favor of Western Civ courses eight or nine times already.  Never mind.

So here are this week’s ABF questions.  How long does a movie have to wait to become a Cult Classic?  Underlying that question is the deeper question: what makes a Cult Classic Classic?  What’s the difference between a Cult Classic and a just plain charming indie release that finds a stable audience over a decade or more?  And why wasn’t Liquid Sky in that bin?  Or Run Lola Run?

See you on Monday with some thoughts upon rereading a novel whose first sentence is “The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.”

Posted by Michael on 07/21 at 12:48 AM
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