“Punch” Bradley, “Judy” Gore and the injustice being done John Rocker

How about those Titans? Duchess Hillary sheds crocodile tears; McCain's creepy; Monica acquires rueful thoughtfulness; and you just can't beat that androgynous Hayley Mills in "The Parent Trap."

Topics: Ted Kennedy, Hillary Rodham Clinton, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John McCain, R-Ariz., Barney Frank, D-Mass., Larry King,

Congratulations to the Tennessee Titans for their thrilling wild card victory over the Buffalo Bills last weekend in the American Football Conference playoffs via one of the most brilliant trick plays that I’ve ever seen in 40 years as a football fan

With only 16 seconds left after Buffalo had taken the lead, Tennessee fullback Lorenzo Neal suddenly handed off a kick reception to tight end Frank Wycheck (a Philadelphia native), who spun and leapt on one foot to hurl a long, gorgeous, cross-field lateral to wide receiver Kevin Dyson, who stretched for a stooping catch and then sped 75 yards down the sideline behind a cadre of deft blockers to the end zone. This was gutsy, old-time football at its finest.

Football, which I have repeatedly described as my pagan religion, is the key to understanding American business and politics. It’s the ultimate war game, a fusion of brain and brawn whose analytic strategies should be studied by every ambitious young man or woman.

Perhaps the floundering, Nashville-based Al Gore campaign will take heart from the rise of the upstart Titans, a transplanted Texas team (the former Houston Oilers), just as President Bill Clinton must have been tickled hot-pink by the University of Arkansas’ 27-6 victory over the University of Texas at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas on New Year’s Day.

In sports terms, the still-shaky big-league rookie Gov. George W. Bush has the momentum in this year’s election, since Texas, from country crossroads to glassy big city, is virtually the United States of Football. Even the woman Bush defeated at his political debut — feisty Gov. Ann Richards — radiated the shrewd, tough football spirit.

So where are we on the presidential gridiron? An irritable, hot-motor Bush is finally starting to beat up on the creepy Sen. John McCain, whom Northeastern liberal journalists, in weird homoerotic fixation, have been over-promoting for months. Never have so many been so wrong about so much in regard to McCain, whom this column has distrusted and opposed from the start.

While Gore was endorsed last week, to universal yawns, by creaky warhorse Sen. Ted Kennedy, Bush gained much more from the vivacious endorsement of Elizabeth Dole, who has reemerged refreshed with a better hairdo and more sober clothes and who is clearly more effective singing the praises of alpha males (like husband Bob at the 1996 Republican convention) than she is in running her own campaign. The chemistry between Bush and Dole was palpable, and feminists across the political spectrum should be applauding Dole’s tenacity in maintaining her viability as a vice-presidential candidate.



Bill Bradley, meanwhile, for whom I will probably vote in the April 4 Pennsylvania primary, is starting to stall. Bush’s notorious smirk has migrated to the disdainful Bradley mug. Gore bobs and weaves like a gingham puppet, but Bradley has lost gravitas by consenting to be daily Punch to Gore’s Judy. Condescension and irony, which phlegmatic Bradley is using against the giggling, yip-yapping Gore, are Ivy League tactics that will never win a general election.

I’m counting the minutes until next month’s New Hampshire primary so that we can get past the grotesque obsession with the media-coddled citizens of that marginal state. New Hampshire’s tyranny over national politics must end. American culture has long grown away from its New England roots — as shown by the present preponderance of Southern and Southwestern presidential candidates. The servile spectacle of journalists and White House wannabes endlessly fawning over New Hampshire voters is revolting.

Despite the proliferation of political chat shows on cable channels (which thankfully broke the hammerlock of the major media in the 1990s), there is a detectable slide toward provincialism again. News-based shows, which should be neutral spaces for debate, are slothfully over-relying on surrogates of candidates to speak for the campaigns.

For example, after Bill Bradley made the important charge last week that Al Gore and company have been in a “Washington bunker,” the once-mighty CNN program, “Crossfire,” invited not independent commentators but two over-exposed campaign representatives (one current, one former) to discuss the issue. The formulaic script of that show could have been written in advance and mailed from Antarctica. Thanks to slack network oversight of producers, news shows are being hijacked to serve as unpaid advertisements for the campaigns. This is a corrupt practice that must be stopped.

Hillary Clinton — who if she actually runs for senator will be the final, asphyxiating millstone around Gore’s neck — moved two vans of household goods into her posh new house in Chappaqua, N.Y., last week, giving her a discreetly smooth transition from a marriage she can’t live with or without. The massive Secret Service bills for this escapade are coming out of your taxes — which would be better employed in upgrading inner-city schools or providing free prescription medicines to senior citizens.

Hillary the Duchess sheds crocodile tears about the homeless but swans around with the rich and famous and speaks out of both sides of her mouth on every issue, as prompted by her shadow cabinet of amoral advisors (led by the loathsome Harold Ickes). That my home state of New York would vote into office in November a person who barely turned resident in January is absurd on the face of it. Even Robert Kennedy (another over-praised Machiavellian) had lived in New York for his first 13 years and had served as attorney general before he was elected senator in 1964. Hillary has never persisted or succeeded at any job — until she became the treasury-draining, globe-hopping Marie Antoinette of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Last week my cousin Wanda, a county legislator in upstate New York, sent me a fabulous, blazing-yellow bumper sticker with “HILLARY” crossed out with a giant X next to the underscored motto, “Not here…Not now…NOT EVER!!” As a disillusioned Democrat who voted for Bill Clinton twice, I wholeheartedly agree.

The liberal bias of the Northeastern major media was shown yet again by their refusal to mention that Hillary was startled by boos from the crowd when she was introduced by her husband at the late-night millennial festivities on the Washington Mall. Only the Los Angeles Times ran the Jan. 1 item, which was spread via the liberation network of the Internet (thanks to the conservative NewsMax.com as well as the ever-vigilant Drudge Report). Does anyone honestly think that if a prominent Republican were booed on the Mall, it would have gone unreported by the networks, the New York Times and the Washington Post?

But the times they may be a-changin’: Even the normally pro-Clinton New York Daily News scathingly editorialized on Jan. 3 that Hillary is using “the motorcades and the Secret Service” to hide from the media, that “[her] elusiveness is troubling” and that “A campaign that consists of little more than photo-ops mocks democracy.”

Monica Lewinsky’s dramatic reappearance at the new year as a TV pitchwoman for the Jenny Craig diet plan must be a prank by the mischievous Olympian gods, who are evidently anti-Clinton. What a delicious irony that Hillary and Monica are simultaneously invading New York, as wedded to each other in the public eye as the adulterous lovers Paolo and Francesca clinging mid-air and buffeted by the hot winds in Dante’s “Inferno.”

While I’ve always thought of Monica as a ninny and a spoiled, upper-middle-class brat, I was unexpectedly charmed by her performance last week on CNN’s “Larry King Live.” Her self-transformation is striking. The smart-alecky narcissism of last year’s Barbara Walters interview was gone, with a rueful thoughtfulness in its place. I especially liked Monica’s declaration of independence from her parents (behind whom she had childishly hidden for so long) and her vow to make her own way in the world.

The King interview aired two hours after Lifetime cable channel’s rebroadcast of its “Intimate Portrait” profile of country singer Wynonna Judd, so that Monica’s broad face, with its big, wide, liquid eyes, ended up bizarrely conflated with Wynonna’s in my mind. There are deep analogies of conflicted femaleness in those two women — the weight problems, the moodiness and impulsiveness, the tension between dependence and rebellion, flamboyance and introversion.

No male in history — except perhaps for Judy Garland impersonators and estrogen-mainlining transsexuals — has ever fully plumbed the depths of this female abyss, where voluptuous sensuality is so intertwined with dark, self-thwarting emotion.

In other news of the new millennium: “Billions of dollars” in American aid, as well as a semi-permanent commitment of U.S. troops, may be the price, we are warned, of a peace agreement between Israel and Syria, whom President Clinton recently herded into stalemated talks in West Virginia. So U.S. taxpayers will be footing the bill for Clinton’s quest for a Nobel Peace Prize to wipe out his impeachment disgrace in the history books. What a scam! American tax dollars should be invested instead in vital at-home social services such as education, health care and public transit.

Another foreign-policy blunder by this administration, the unethical bombing raids on the former Yugoslavia, is evoked in a disturbing query from Salon reader Frederick Duquette:

In the past, your column has criticized NATO’s bombing campaign last year over Serbia. British and Canadian newspapers have recently drawn a connection between Russia’s campaign in Chechnya and NATO’s bombing campaign, suggesting that NATO underestimated Russia and that somehow the Serbian bombing campaign has provoked Russian militarism. I have not seen this interpretation in the usual American media sources. Could this chain of events be linked to Yeltsin’s resignation and portend a destabilizing cycle of passive-aggressive Russian foreign policy in the midst of a Kremlin power struggle? Hence the fruits of NATO’s shortsighted efforts in Serbia.

Yes, Mr. Duquette, U.S. meddling in the Balkans, with its thousand-year history of irresolvable tribal strife, was very foolish. It was Russia and China that should have been our ultimate focus. Thanks to the clumsy solipsism of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (dutiful daughter of the former Czech ambassador to Belgrade), we have reawakened the hungry, sleepy bear of Russian militarism and rabid anti-Americanism. The Russians and Serbians are interconnected by ethnic history and Slavic pride. Another American generation down the line in the 21st century may have to pay the debt for U.S. arrogance in the Balkans — whose refugee problem was tragically worsened by NATO’s futile bombing.

It remains to be seen, of course, whether the American military will be ready to deal with any external threats at all, if the present trend of blatant political interference continues. The argument that broke out last week among the presidential candidates about the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy governing gays in the military has only further strengthened the Republican cause.

While I believe that gays should be able to serve with honor in the military, I also think that the practical problems of dropping the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule have yet to be fully explored or even, for that matter, cursorily studied. Overt combat conditions, with ground units deployed on the attack, are radically different from the kind of relatively stable, centralized peacekeeping tasks that American troops are routinely assigned to now. We have reduced our soldiers to caretaking mercenaries, glorified nannies. Military policy about gays must be formulated for the critical worst-case scenario, not the best.

When the nation’s security is at stake, I will side with the considered judgment of the Joint Chiefs of Staff rather than with the adenoidal mewlings of stridently gay congressman Barney Frank, who on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last Sunday looked and sounded like he’s still at the lollipop and baby-rattle stage. (Imagine Frank in a foxhole! Russian strategists must be having quite a horse laugh at Frank’s prominence as a military “expert.”)

As for the appalling freak show over 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez, rescued from the sea six weeks ago after his mother drowned while escaping from Cuba, the Immigration and Naturalization Service was correct last week in ordering him returned to his father’s custody in Cuba — a ruling that should have come more quickly to avoid the child’s present gross exploitation by all sides. Normalization of relations with Cuba, no longer a Soviet puppet state, is long overdue — a process that will quickly occur when Fidel Castro passes from the scene and when the island becomes a magnet for outside investment. Capitalism and democracy, those ebullient twins, are around the corner.

Scott Sawyer writes from Los Angeles:

What do you think of the uproar over Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker’s remarks in the Dec. 27 issue of Sports Illustrated? Even though Rocker is a hip-shooter, he seems like a decent guy who doesn’t deserve the calls for his hide that the politically correct ninnies launched immediately upon the SI interview’s publication. The lunatic brainwashing brigade has at long last fully confused speech and action, judging by its castigation of Rocker, who despite his Archie Bunker-type remarks, is known for generously giving his time to youth groups and charities.

I agree with you, Mr. Sawyer — although Rocker’s taunting remarks about New York (which he portrays as a Tower of Babel of alien races and infectious queers) are perfectly consistent with his swaggering, loutish, Incredible Hulk persona on the baseball field. Although I’m primarily a football fan who tunes into baseball only for the playoffs and World Series, I enjoyed Rocker’s catty running feud with New York fans last season. We need more regional rivalries in team sports, which have lost intensity since athletes became agent-controlled independent operators hopscotching from coast to coast.

Rocker’s jibes, however offensive to liberal sensibilities, are protected as free speech under the First Amendment. Athletes are warriors, not diplomats, and they shouldn’t have to conform to genteel p.c. codes. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig’s order last week that Rocker be examined by a psychiatrist smacks of the Gulag days of Stalinist Russia. (Civil libertarians should demand Selig’s resignation, in fact.) But the Atlanta Braves also have a right not to renew Rocker’s contract if his off-field behavior is detrimental to team cohesion or to the public image of what is, after all, a privately owned business.

Lee Willis writes from Livermore, Calif., in regard to my battle-in-Seattle column, where I called for “a broad-based, rigorously rational progressive party” that is free of “outdated Marxist formulas”:

What exactly does it mean to be “progressive” w/o being “Marxist”? Whenever I’ve seen the word “progressive” employed politically, it either means nothing whatsoever (just a warm fuzzy word), or it is simply another word for Marxism. What does “progressive” mean to you?

The polarity in modern politics between right and left dates from the French Revolution, whose radical principles were inspired by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the creator of Romanticism. Broadly speaking, a conservative wishes to return to a simpler and more virtuous past, where wise ancestors or “founding fathers” knew best and where authority, at home or in government, was strong.

A progressive, in contrast, looks to the future, sometimes unrealistically imagined in utopian perfection. Reform is the ideal, and society is seen as malleable, a work of art in process. Marxism is only one of the reform movements spawned by Rousseau’s deep and wide-ranging influence.

While Marxist analysis has been a boon to historiography — allowing us to see the hidden economic forces in cultural change — applied Marxism, in the form of communism, has been a disaster, abruptly transforming agrarian into industrial societies via tyranny and mass murder. Over time, communism produces economic stagnation and suppresses free thought and creativity.

My progressive texts are William Blake’s radically leftist poems such as “The Chimney Sweeper” (1789) and “London” (1790) — written almost 30 years before Karl Marx was even born. Modern leftism needs to root out its failed Marxism and get back to first principles. Social justice can be achieved not through massive redistribution of wealth and authoritarian control but through moderate taxation and civic responsibility, a recognition of Rousseau’s “social contract.” Capitalism is not the enemy but a great boon to mankind, raising the standard of living, enhancing individualism and liberating the mind.

In the current issue of the Women’s Quarterly, editor Charlotte Hays interviews the formidable Christina Hoff Sommers about “America’s undeclared war on boys,” the subject of the latter’s forthcoming new book. Sommers’ dissection here of Susan Faludi’s propagandistic “Stiffed” must be seen: for example, Sommers describes her fruitless questioning of a befuddled Faludi at the National Press Club in Washington regarding the shoddy statistics in “Stiffed” about male depression and suicide. Salon readers are well aware that I regard Sommers as one of the most heroic truth-tellers of our time.

Also available on the Web site of the Independent Women’s Forum (which publishes the Women’s Quarterly) is an extraordinary exposi by professor Judith S. Kleinfeld, “MIT Tarnishes Its Reputation With Gender Junk Science.” This blistering report conclusively demonstrates that the gullible major media fell hook, line and sinker for the spurious claim that MIT has been systematically discriminating against its women faculty.

As Kleinfeld states, “The MIT study falls below elementary standards for scientific evidence”; “No gender discrimination was actually found by the committee”; “Perceptions of discrimination among MIT’s female faculty were far from universal”; and “The MIT committee evaluating gender discrimination was composed mostly of interested parties — the women perceiving gender discrimination.” I’m delighted that Kleinfeld’s report corroborates the position taken by this column about the MIT study last spring.

Apropos of once-distinguished institutions deformed by p.c. cant, I got an emergency alert last week from my paintings-conservator sister Lenora about a curricular change at Smith College (where she majored in art history, class of ’83):

I am livid about something I read in the Smith Alumnae Quarterly — a small footnote buried in a long single-paragraph sidebar:

“Visual Aids — the old two-semester Art 100, in which students surveyed visual expression from pre-history to the present and from Africa to New York City, has been replaced by more focused colloquia. The new ARH101: ‘Approaches to Visual Representation’ will teach basic art history skills via one-semester topics such as ‘Mortals and Immortals,’ ‘The Home as a Work of Art,’ and ‘Art and Death.’”

I am furious to think that some movement has been afoot to dismantle this great survey course out from under future generations of Smith students. How dare they? And who are these new appointees? — who should be custodians of the great Smith art history tradition, not its wrecking balls!

We need a “Historic Preservation Movement” for the great scholarly traditions: Art 100 was the Penn Station of the Smith art history student, an elegant framework carefully and beautifully crafted by architects and engineers who had mastered generations’ worth of design knowledge and practicality — people who cared about and knew about art — stylishly sending us out confidently into the world in every direction — and now it is suffering the same fate as the great Penn Station, being dismantled by philistines who want to replace it with something more “up to date” — an ugly, flimsy shell enclosing chaos!

Naturally, I was appalled at this news — which is part of the head-in-the-sand trend, as at the University of Chicago and Columbia University, to revise the magisterial intellectual-history courses that were structured chronologically. Ahistorical postmodernism, which fragments and atomizes subjects into paste-up collages, has swept into academe on the heels of blobby post-structuralism and destroyed the rich core of high-level education — for which hapless parents are paying $100,000 tuition bills. I demonstrated in my first book (published 10 years ago next month) that sweeping historical narratives are still possible and that 10,000-year time-frames are the only way to think.

In a contribution to our ongoing ethnic symposium, Salon reader Kalle Nilsson writes from Stockholm that J. McCann’s letter from South Africa about Pat Buchanan’s genealogy errs in one regard: “It is true that both ‘Irish’ and ‘Scottish’ are closely related languages, both called Gaelic. The still ‘living’ languages Welsh and Breton, as well as the antiquated Manx and Cornish languages, are related to each other as well as to both Gaelic versions. However, to avoid confusion, these shouldn’t be called Gaelic but Celtic.”

Felicity Hendricks responds to my assessment of the anti-Southern bias of the bicoastal media establishment:

I’m a classical voice major in Tennessee, and I came from anything but a “redneck” family. I have very little accent, and everyone in my family speaks at least two languages. Yet because we chose to live in the South, we’re automatically treated as though we’re aliens from some backward country!

I find it simply appalling that while we’re trying to promote equality and tolerance in our country, the seemingly most liberal of liberal groups in the U.S., Hollywood, turns and makes fun of Southerners or people from various parts of the nation. On the other hand, if you said one negative word about homosexuals or African-Americans, they would jump on you like you’d committed a cardinal sin. Intolerance and prejudice is intolerance and prejudice, no matter who the subject is.

Rob Marus continues the Southern theme in his interesting letter from Jefferson City, Mo.,:

I think I have figured out a reason for that shabby treatment. Though I live in the Midwest now, I know whereof I speak: I am a sixth-generation Arkansan with a good liberal-arts education from a Memphis college who happens to be a white male and a political and religious moderate. I also am a 1993 graduate of (the now well-integrated) Little Rock Central High School.

So I think I’ve seen just about every category that defines me as lambasted and lampooned by one influential group or another (whether it be academic elites, Hollywood and the news media or the fundamentalist foils who have seized control of — and ruined — my beloved but beleaguered Southern Baptist Convention). You’re right — the “liberal” intelligentsia of the coastal establishments have continually shot liberalism in the foot by ridiculing the people liberalism should be reaching out to the most.

The corporate media have, naturally, been headquartered in parts of the country where the greatest amounts of wealth and people are concentrated: the Northeast and the West Coast. With the exponential growth in technology in the postwar era, the media have increasingly influenced the way Americans view themselves — including what is normative for “average” Americans. Somewhere, the Middle Atlantic power brokers who ran radio and then television networks decided that their own generic “non-accent” (which, in reality, is an accent of its own) should be normative for all Americans just as a two-parent family with 2.5 children and a house in the suburbs also became normative.

Thus, legions of TV newscasters, actors, game show hosts and even many sports commentators have been trained to speak “normally” — which meant dropping any hint of a regional or socio-economic subgroup accent. Any time a non-”generic” accent is portrayed by Hollywood (with the notable exceptions of black Southern accents or, for lack of a better term, “New York City” accents), it is almost always associated with a negative stereotype. In the white Southern accent’s case, it is the realm of the serial killer, the philandering preacher, the pot-bellied racist, the incompetent sheriff and the manipulative belle.

Just one example of Yankee imperialism. But in a day and age when the televising, suburbanization and strip-malling of America have obliterated virtually all regional differences, I would love to see regional accents make a comeback.

I agree: accents are bewitching folk music. Professional voice coaches have gone overboard in enforcing a bland middle-Atlantic sound on broadcasters and actors. I’m an admirer of the Tallulah Bankhead School of Dramatic Arts: look what that woman did with an Alabama accent!

Scott Rector sends a literary question from Hellertown, Pennsylvania:

Don’t you think that you’re a little harsh on “King Lear” in your book “Sexual Personae”? You find the play “boring” and “obvious” and say that some professors “dread” to teach it. I find its spell strangely hypnotic and pagan.

Cordelia is seen today as some kind of wimp. I think she kicks ass. Although she gets hanged, a lot of bad people go down with her, and justice wins. Sure, she may come off as cold. But the world is a cold place in the end. She transcends “niceness,” that suburban evil. Cordelia may just be the antidote to the middle-class spiritual emptiness you write about. She also represents the Christian ideal of not conforming to the world.

It seems that a lot of conservative-leaning baby boomers suck up to their parents. How lame it is to say what we “ought” to say automatically. We can only respect their suffering, and the tumultuous times which formed them. Maybe those professors should spend more effort teaching this play.

Your defense of Cordelia is spirited, Mr. Rector! But I just can’t seem to shake either my antipathy toward her, with her priggish Jane Wyman petulance, or my perverse fondness for her conspiratorial evil sisters, Goneril and Regan, those sharp-nailed, Joan Crawford bitch-queens.

“King Lear” is always a central text in my undergraduate Shakespeare course, since it’s an indispensable work in the world canon. I stress the political consequences of Lear’s rash division of his kingdom, which reverses history and thrusts his people back to barbaric tribalism, beneath the cruel lash of nature. I enjoy the numerical gamesmanship of Lear’s shrinking retinue, and I appreciate the profound poetry in the Fool’s tutelage as well as in Lear’s dissolution to nothingness on the wild heath.

While “King Lear” helps provoke young people to think about the evolution of law and the values of good government, I’m afraid I have so little patience with its senile protagonist that I do injustice to the play as a whole. As I said in the Renaissance literature chapters of “Sexual Personae,” it’s the rowdy, sensual, geography-leaping “Antony and Cleopatra” that may be the emblematic Shakespeare play of my generation of critics.

Thanks to the many like-minded readers who inquired about my paean to
St. Teresa of Avila, which was broadcast in the U.K. by BBC Radio 4 on
New Year’s Eve. Here’s the text.

On the pop-culture front, the best movie I’ve seen in months was “The Parent Trap,” the classic 1961 comedy rebroadcast last week by the Disney Channel. I’ve adored “The Parent Trap,” starring the androgynous, effervescent Hayley Mills in an ingenious double role, since it was first released when I was 14. I never cease to marvel at its quality of script, direction and performances even in the minor roles (where my testy twin Nancy Kulp shines). “The Parent Trap” shows how engaging moviemaking for a general audience can be, and it puts to shame 95 percent of the banal, pretentious tripe pouring out of the entertainment industry these days.

Pierre Fleurant writes from Billerica, Mass., to laud a still-obscure 1968 film:

I just viewed “Girl on a Motorcycle,” directed by Jack Cardiff and staring Marianne Faithfull. Whitehorse Press supplies anything and everything to do with motorcycles and has the original, uncut, X-rated version complete with the original trailer. It even includes the stills that were posted outside of the movie house entrances. (Remember the young Francois Truffaut character in “Day for Night” stealing those 8×10 glossies?)

Please review this wonderful picture. It is a quintessential ’60s film that has been hidden from many movie lovers because of that medieval X-rating. (The trailer includes the X-rating statement and specifies ages 16 or older to view the film. Yes, 16.) I can imagine you writing about the sexual overtones of Rebecca (M. Faithfull) riding a rather large Harley-Davidson in her black leather jumpsuit, naked underneath. A flying sexual statue.

You have undoubtedly excited waves of delicious frissons among Salon readers across the globe, Mr. Fleurant! Though I spotted the famous still of a leatherclad Marianne Faithfull here and there over the decades, my sole direct encounter with “Girl on a Motorcycle” was when a grainy, washed-out, censored print was shown on TV in the middle of the night about eight years ago. I will remedy this deficiency as soon as possible, since of course I revere the fallen-angel Faithfull as a charismatic pop icon and tortured artist. (Her 1979 album, “Broken English,” is one of the most important works ever produced by a woman.)

Peter Bejger and “pals” write from Kiev about a remarkable film that made a huge impact on my own circle of friends at its release in 1968 (the year I graduated from college):

“We are a bunch of queer male American expatriates in self-imposed exile in an isolated Eastern European capital. To amuse ourselves on a recent evening we had a screening of a video of “The Killing of Sister George”. Wow! What a revelation! We had all missed it somehow the first time around, and we were amazed at the brazen sexuality of the film — in particular that incredible scene with the icy Coral Browne servicing baby-doll Susannah York in bed. And all this in a widely released film — in the 1960s!

We boys still can’t get the equivalent man-to-man action on screen (obscure euro-art films don’t count). Isn’t it pathetic that erotic male imagery is too explosive for mainstream cinema? In any event, we played our favorite parlor game — recast that film! The general consensus was that Kathy Bates should play the Beryl Reid role of the loud dyke in decline, while Jamie Lee Curtis would be ideal as the predatory BBC bitch played originally by Browne. But who can we cast in York’s Childie role? We drew a blank on today’s inginues. They all seem so bland. Any ideas? Who would be your dream cast for a 21st century remake of “The Killing of Sister George”?

Yes, it’s rather unfair that lesbian eroticism, even in antiquity, has often been a turn-on to straight people, while male homosexuality remains a gross-out. (I’ve tried to explain that paradox in my books in terms of the excruciating tensions inherent in masculinity.) But it’s the lazy, smarmy, p.c. schmaltz of current moviemaking that must be blamed: “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (1971) and “Making Love” (1982) beautifully succeeded with their gay-male themes because the filmmakers had an intelligent grasp of the real world and its perhaps insuperable prejudices and pressures.

As for casting a new “Killing of Sister George” (what a terrific idea!): my nominees are Dawn French for the Beryl Reid role; Sigourney Weaver for the Coral Browne role; and Angelina Jolie or Ashley Judd for the Susannah York role. Young indy directors, please dump your boring postmodernist ironies, and begin the millennium with a rousing revival of good old, lavender-blooded high camp!

Camille Paglia is the University Professor of Humanities and Media Studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Her most recent book is "Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-Three of the World's Best Poems." You can write her at this address.

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