Welcome to my world

By Camille Paglia

By Salon Staff
Published March 31, 2001 12:00AM (UTC)
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I cannot believe you bought the "the rich need a tax cut because it's their money" bulldada! How did the rich "make" their money? They made it by having people that work hard for them create their profits. Rich people do not work harder than, say, somebody scrubbing toilets, collecting garbage or cooking food for children at public schools.

However, rich people, after growing richer and richer over the last five decades as middle- and lower-class incomes have stagnated or shrunk, deserve a tax cut since it's their money? The average person making $25,000 a year will get around $50 from the current Bush proposal, while somebody making a million a year will get back around $45,000. Who needs the money more?

Would it not make much more sense to have a payroll tax cut? This would not only give money to those who actually need it, but it will also allow businesses to hire more people since their payroll taxes would be reduced too.

-- Craig Joyner

It's not the fact of a tax cut, but the message it sends investors. What we are telling the world is that we have no interest in deficit reduction. Imagine you are Saud or whoever and the CEO of the company was Clinton, a bright boy with some personal problems, who's been telling you that we are good for our debt. Now we have this nebbish who says forget about the debt. Where would you invest?

-- Daniel Meyer

I agree with the logic that those who pay the most should get the most reduction in a tax cut. However, what we miss here is the debate about whether the current rate structure is appropriate. Should we be burdening at all the people who are mostly stuck in low-paying or dead-end jobs? I would love to see a day that if you made $50,000 or less, you do not have to pay any tax.

-- Kish Vora

After many years of prosperity during the '90s, the big investors got sloppy in their thinking and were pulled into the dot-com hype hook, line and sinker. The bubble has burst, and it's time to cut the fat out of the economy. A mammoth (and retroactive) tax cut as Bush is currently attempting to push through will only reinforce a perception that the economic slowdown has come about by some sort of accident, as opposed to investors simply making bad investment decisions.

-- Jared Pearson

I wanted to take issue with your remarks on the need for drastic tax cutting. I am speaking here semi-professionally, as an economics professor (currently at Purdue, but I taught at the University of Chicago for five years, so my conservative bona fides are in order).

It is not the case that the rich pay an overwhelming portion of taxes. They pay an overwhelming portion of income taxes. When you figure in payroll taxes and sales taxes, the distribution skews much more strongly toward the poor and middle-income Americans. This is because payroll taxes are only levied on the first (roughly) $70,000 of income, so you effectively pay 13 percent of every dollar of income up to that point, and nothing thereafter. Of course, the fraction of income that is consumed falls rapidly with income, so the rich pay a much lower percentage of their income in sales taxes. These other taxes comprise roughly 45 percent of the federal budget, and a much higher percentage of state and local budgets.

By defining the debate in terms of income taxes, rather than the entire tax burden, the Bush camp has made a reasonable case for a tax cut skewed heavily toward the wealthy. Now perhaps a case could be made that the wealthy should pay a lower burden than the rest of us, or that there is a particular reason to pay attention to income taxes rather than all the other taxes that eat away at our paychecks. But the Bush camp is not making this case; they are trusting in the public's inability to uncover this fundamental dishonesty.

-- David Hummels

I agree that the tax cut is minimal, and if the majority of Americans think it is structured fairly, then pass it. But I take issue with the way it is being presented. Bush and other Republican leaders imply that taxpayers and businesses know best how to spend their own money, that the government will just waste it, etc., ad nauseam.

But businesses, individuals and families are not paragons of efficiency either. I work as an estimator at a roofing company. I see an incredible amount of waste, from office supplies to roofing material. I'm sure other businesses are the same. When we bid government work, we know we have to keep our numbers tight because, as required by law, the agency must obtain a minimum number of competitive bids. When we bid private-sector work, we generally have more flexibility. We almost always have a higher profit margin on private-sector work than government work.

It would be more accurate for the president to tell the public: "We want you to have this tax cut because you can waste your money just as good as the government can, maybe better."

-- Stephen James

You say that George W. should "wing it" rather than read from notes. There is little incentive for those perceived as conservatives to do so, when their least verbal slip is seized upon by the media as evidence of stupidity. Dan Quayle's political career was ruined by his misspelling of "potato." For years, it seemed, the media could talk of little else about him but that and similar trivia. In the 20th century, skillful oratory became the tool of the confidence trickster. What the world needs is efficient, honest, unemotional administration, not speeches that appeal to the ignorant.

-- Keith Goodenough

I think that George Bush needs to spend more time practicing his speechifying and that he needs to know when to speak from the hip and when to speak with deliberation. I think he will improve in both areas. If he doesn't, however, so be it. No logical relationship exists between a man's speechifying ability and his ability to lead. It's what he says and does that matters, not how he says things.

Case in point: JFK, perhaps the smoothest speaker of our modern leaders, had as much chance of getting civil rights legislation passed as the man in the moon. Along came LBJ, an awkward, almost comical guy on camera, and he gets the civil rights legislation passed. That guy sitting in the chair in the Lincoln monument spoke with a high-pitched voice and was a somewhat comical figure when speeching. He got the job done.

Clinton was a smoothie like his hero, JFK. And he ... well. I'm a little nervous with smooth talkers. I go to sleep at night to the sound of the History Channel where frequently I see the Führer up there controlling and molding the crowds with his particular brand of communication skill. Was it Jung who said that of all the peoples in the world, those most vulnerable to the Hitler types are Americans? I can live with Bush's bumbling.

-- Tony Keay, Pittsburgh, Pa.

The problem with the current political "crisis" (campaign finance reform) is that politicians have too much power concentrated in Washington and not that we, the American public, pay too much in soft campaign funds.

We have concentrated way too much power into the federal system instead of diversifying the power to the states as the Constitution dictates. Instead of the money being spread from state to state to influence local politicos on taxes, education and the like, we have created the Wal-Mart of political pandering: Washington-mart. I have yet to hear the intelligentsia question why someone would spend so much money on a job that, constitutionally, was to have "limited power" and scope.

-- Mark F. Willimann

Speaking of wasted government money, I'd like to see you comment on the billions of dollars going into the intelligence community, agencies that haven't been able to keep a secret since WWII. The irony is that we have so many leaks in this untouchable bureaucracy that now all our billions are going into internal investigations and surveillance of its own people.

These agencies are bloated and inefficient. What's the purpose -- so they can live exciting lives in exotic foreign places? I say post all our national secrets on a large marquee near the Lincoln Memorial, then lots of countries can put their tax dollars into education and other productive endeavors. We can then reduce our own spooks down to about 25 percent of what we have now and turn the rest into park rangers.

-- Phil Celeste

Why would the Republican Party pick an uninspiring, behind-the-scenes kind of guy like Cheney for vice presidency? Here's my theory: Cheney is the official "placeholder" for the position. They know his health is questionable. They know he might not be able to serve out the term. They know he has virtually no chance to withstand a serious run for the presidency after Bush finishes out his term(s). So who would he be a placeholder for?

When Colin Powell spoke at the Republican National Convention, my gut reaction was "That guy I'll consider!" Everyone else thought so too. Yet he (or his wife) supposedly ixnayed the possibility of running for higher office because of the dangers inherent with being the first black public figure in the highest profile target zone in politics.

So the Republican hierarchy is damned determined to get their way. Put Cheney in the No. 2 position. Have him bow out part way through the term for health reasons. Then the heavy hitters corner Powell in the Oval Office and ride him until he accepts the position.

Home run for the Republicans -- they position the man they "really" wanted for the executive office, and they get a black dude closer to the top spot before any of those hypocritical crackers in the Democratic Party. That alone would make the Republicans unbeatable in the presidential races of 2004, 2008 and 2012. Who do the Democrats have that could compete with Powell?

-- Scott Abraham, Official Swing Voter

Good point about the New York Times. The population of metro Big Apple is around 13 million, and yet circulation of the New York Times is barely 200,000. Not a local paper at all. Same with the Los Angeles Times: better local, but still 220,000 readers out of a 10 million population. The Los Angeles Times is afraid of local black and Hispanic backlash as well as being PC, and won't do any real local reporting.

-- Howard

On what independent, verifiable scrap of evidence do you base your belief that Hugh Rodham has returned even one dime of his "fees" for pardons? I've not seen anything other than mere words from the lips of those I long ago learned to distrust.

Having accepted the fees, he's already placed himself in the top 39.6 percent bracket, no doubt ironically praying President Bush's tax cut package goes through. Even so, absent deductions, Mr. Rodham is on the hook for $158,400 in federal income taxes alone.

-- Charles Markham

The New York Times, and the rest of the media for that matter, have consistently allowed Hillary Clinton's false statements to go unchallenged. She has gotten a free pass, and now New Yorkers and the rest of us are having to endure her.

There was one incident a few years back that continues to irk me. Hillary was in Boston addressing thousands of school kids who had been bussed in from all over New England to be in the presence of Her Holiness. To make a point about intolerance, Hillary told the kids about a childhood recollection of her being humbled by the goalie of an opposing girls' junior high soccer team. Hillary said she had been called a "rich white girl." Somehow they were supposed to believe this was an epiphany for her.

The fawning press corps accepted this on face value, just as they had done with Hillary's "loaves and fishes" livestock futures scam and with her ridiculous claim that she'd been named after Sir Edmund Hillary. What doesn't ring true about it? Well, for one thing, Hillary would have been 13 or 14 in junior high school. So that would have put it this humbling episode in the 1959-61 time frame.

Back then, boys weren't playing soccer in the United States yet, much less girls. I'm a 1957 alumnus of the Naval Academy. We were introduced to soccer there so that we could be diplomatic when we visited around the world where it is the sport. Nevertheless, only a handful of midshipmen ever played it.

I don't care how upscale, expensive and snooty Hillary's suburban junior high school may have been. I'll bet the farm that she didn't play soccer, even as part of P.E., much less competitively in a league. Hillary made that one up. Jimmy Olsen, cub reporter for "The Daily Planet," could have debunked Hillary's fib in less than a day. It burns me up that nobody did. She got away with another one.

-- Fritz Steiner, Huntsville, Ala.

I also enjoyed "La Boheme" last weekend, but avoided the yackety-yack altogether. I digitally recorded the broadcast and afterward imported the results into my computer's "wave" editor, cut out the talk, cut the four acts into four new files, burned them into two CD-Rs and settled back in the evening to listen to the uninterrupted music.

Doing this was a bit of work, but I avoided nattering nabob rage, didn't have to turn desperately to TV, got something productive done in the afternoon and have the performance available for future enjoyment. By the way, the wave editor employs many of the same principles as a word processor. My results are still limited to FM broadcast quality, but that is hardly noticeable with such excellent performances.

-- Don Nafis

Thanks for the mention of Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder. There is a picture in a family photo album of me, crouched by the family Christmas tree at age 9 with a shit-eating grin on my face and the most amazing Christmas present from my uncle in my hands. It was not another addition to my collection of Star Wars action figures, but Donna Summer's "On the Radio: Greatest Hits Volumes I & II" double LP. That must explain my parents' immediately signing me up for Little League.

Donna is a guilty pleasure that has followed me into adulthood. I am still amazed by how well she can "interpret" a song, which is a talent today's songstresses seem to be lacking. While the Mariahs and the Christinas and the Celines try to imitate the sound of a dog whistle, Donna throws her theater background into each song, altering her inflections and tone to take on the character of the song. Coupled with Moroder's startling innovation with synthesizers, her volume of work from the '70s ages well; I'm convinced "I Feel Love" is one of the greatest achievements in modern pop music.

-- John Livaudais

I am dying here. I am a freshman film student at Emerson College in Boston. I decided to write a paper on why there are no great female directors because I got sick of studying all of the men. I have found some great female directors, I love Jane Campion's "The Piano," but I don't understand why there aren't more women making it big.

At first I was told from book to book, person to person, that it was the male gaze. But now I'm thinking that it has something more to do with nature. Men tell stories that go up up up, then climax, with a short resolution. Females just ramble on and on about tiny details -- that goes against Hollywood conventions for a great film. Perhaps that's why we haven't made it into the biggest, most expensive medium of expression.

Of course we make it on the independent level, but most of the female independent directors are lesbians. I don't have anything against that, but they are just like men in so many ways, and I want a fully feminine female to make a nice film, I don't want to watch a thousand lesbian films just to study about women filmmakers.

Basically I'm flustered -- what is going on? Why aren't women at the top of Hollywood? They are at the top of everything else these days in small ways. If someone made it, they didn't last. It's such a huge art form, and it shapes the way so many people interpret reality, and there is no strong female voice shaping any of it as far as I can see.

-- Catherine

I was heartened to see that I wasn't the only person underwhelmed by "American Beauty." The plot and characters seemed more like a kitsch put-on I'd read in a zine than a serious comment on modern suburbia.

-- Press

I just wanted to say thank you for your recent comments about "American Beauty." I was beginning to think that I was the only person on the planet who saw this movie for the insipid garbage that it is.

Young film directors in the 1990's were desperately trying to recapture the countercultural glory of 1970's cinema. Most of them failed miserably because they are utterly blind concerning the degree to which they have already been co-opted into the Hollywood system and been bound by 20 years of political correctness. Director Sam Mendes even admits on the director's commentary of the "American Beauty" DVD that the film originally had a different ending which was not politically correct.

We have seen this trend in a large number of recent films, including last year's "Way of the Gun," about two extremely close male criminals who kidnap a pregnant woman. If the two criminals had been gay, the film would have been much more interesting thematically, but obviously someone decided that they couldn't be both gay and criminal, so instead they are just "very good friends." We can all thank the gay establishment and the folks who protested outside of theatres showing great films like "Cruising" and "Basic Instinct" for this trend of self-censorship.

-- Jack Pretzer

Since the number of available screens for quality foreign films is now cluttered with made-for-TV Miramax tripe like "Chocolat," what's the remedy for the art film in America?

Your description of "American Beauty" as crappy and condescending is dead on and in many ways reflects the attitude of Hollywood's "tastemakers" toward the audience. Has any other film in recent memory seemed more cynically calculated to appeal to academic liberals and film critics?

Cinematic exercises like "Repulsion" and other films you often cite as having grown up with have been replaced by stale fare test-marketed for consumption by a white, upper-middle-class demographic. If Harvey Weinstein and his ilk would loosen the reins a bit, audiences might be able to experience the same exhilaration I had the first time I saw "Repulsion," now almost 15 years ago as a college freshman in a film course. The experience significantly altered my worldview. How many of today's films could you say that about? How can your perception of spatial relations, sexual politics and, well, rabbits ever be the same after seeing it?

-- Clay Cassells

You are wrong about "The Sopranos." Like a great song, it grows on you after repeated watchings. If you stuck with it from the start, you would see the character development and hooks in the story line. If you just pop into any episode, you may not "get it." The series is laced with dark humor and almost mocks itself. Great television, for adults.

-- D. Lawson, Wilbraham, Mass.

I was disappointed in your put-down of that unique series "The Sopranos." How great that an Italian-American, David Chase, wrote and directed this brilliant work of popular culture! Then there are the actors who play Mr. and Mrs. Soprano. These are nuanced, real and just plain wonderful actors, who I believe are also Italian.

-- Roberta Hodes

Your reaction to "The Sopranos" is right on if it is viewed as serious drama. However, I view it as a comedy and find it hilarious. Give it another try! Of course I also thought "The Exorcist" was a comedy, so maybe it's just me.

-- David

Even if I agree with the accuracy of your analysis of "The Sopranos," may I still make a plea that you reconsider? Yes, the writers make short work of typing Italian-Americans, the Church, the FBI, SUVs, pastry, grilled sausages and everything else under the sun, and in the dark, in northern New Jersey.

But they only have an hour with which to work every week. Even stereotypical characters can be compelling if used in the right way, and they are useful as a literary shorthand. For example, Homer and Virgil used gods and goddesses they took from mythology to convey set ideas about situations and plots. Dante borrowed Virgil and a host of saints to represent a multitude of ideas, morals and poetic set pieces well known to those who heard or read his epic.

Now, I know "The Sopranos" episodes aren't "La Commedia," and I agree that many of the paisans are painfully stereotypical, but they still can be entertaining while conveying some small truths about guilt, greed, crime and punishment in America.

-- Elliott Warnock, Chapel Hill, N.C.

I know how you feel about "The Sopranos." I'm a generation and a half removed from Ireland. So much about what is celebrated as Irish in this country is stereotypes and myths. Imagine if "The Sopranos" was "The Murphys," and they were all drunken cops.

-- Peter D. Barry

"The Sopranos" is simply porno for the faux-artsy crowd. HBO is taking shots at one of the few remaining "safe" ethnic groups available. Let's hear it for an HBO series which profiles slave-trading, money-grubbing, drug-dealing Jews with ties to organized crime in Israel. Don't hold your breath. "American Beauty" was inexplicable -- except that it took a similarly safe shot at straight suburban white people. I live in the same suburbs that the writer grew up in; his angst over not "fitting in" is simply the whine of the narcissistic high school thespian. Trust me on that one.

-- Joel Cross, Marietta, Ga.

Although I never watched "The Sopranos," I doubt that it shows much about the Mafia protection rackets: muscling, firebombing and murdering small-business owners struggling to make a legitimate living. I doubt that it shows how the Mafia dealt with entrepreneurs who dared to compete in garbage pickup and other businesses. Ah, the romance of the Godfather: a legitimate contract with singer Johnny Fontaine, overruled at the point of a gun.

-- John Marovich

Thank you for your comments regarding "The Sopranos" -- that disgraceful, hour-long insult to Italian-American culture. I can't tell you how sick to death I am of these crucifix-wearing, pizza-slinging, big-haired "cafones" occupying airtime.

If one more person makes a Mafia reference to me because of my last name, I'm afraid I will succumb to behavior that is befitting of that overweight windbag Janice Soprano. I have seen the program only once on a dare from a friend, and although I tried to set aside my personal feelings about the show's subject matter, I still found the writing dull and the acting buffoonish. Even the token "brain" on the show (played by Lorraine Bracco) comes off with about as much life and depth as an uncooked ribbon of lasagna. Enough!

-- Angela Aiello, Los Angeles

I grew up in Italy and have continued to go back and forth between the States and Italy most of my adult life. I wasn't sure why, but I found HBO's "The Sopranos" to be so offensive at some level that I couldn't even force myself to watch more than a couple of episodes. I wanted to know what everybody was talking about -- why all the media adulation and exposure? But I couldn't find one thing in the show that even remotely moved me or allowed me to make some connection with a culture that I love and know so well.

This is a show that neither entertains nor informs. If killing, betraying, deceiving, beating up and being at war with your family, friends and neighbors is what laudable entertainment has come to, then why are we so surprised and shocked when the fantasy manifests itself as reality in our schools? I'll take "Queer as Folk" or "Sex and the City" any day over "The Sopranos." At least these shows are honest and allow me to feel compassion for the struggle of their characters who go to great lengths to maintain and nurture their relationships with friends and family. To my mind and heart, violence is not entertaining. But how we as humans struggle to love each other certainly is.

-- Tom Clark, Newport Beach, Calif.

I thank you for speaking out about the deft suppression of Italian intelligence and beauty by the Hollywood machinery and power 'elite' or establishment. Why are Italians not more outspoken about this? I am much opposed to the representations of uneducated and nefarious Mafia systems plaguing the media. I am so tired of it that when people make assumptions about the joys of that show, or ask whether or not I am aware of the lexicon, I have no energy to explain. My family are literate and sensitive individuals, and that lifestyle portrayed in film, etc., is not remotely recognizable to me.

-- Mary Catherine Catanese

Thanks for cutting through the hype and revealing the salient truth about "The Sopranos": It's a terrible show, trafficking in cliches that are laughable at best, and offensive at worst. Equally galling is the fact that HBO wouldn't dare broadcast a program that depicts another minority group -- say African-Americans -- in such stereotypical terms. Could you imagine the reaction to such a series from Jesse Jackson?

Your column also raises another interesting point. Is there any group in print journalism more locked into group think and political correctness than television critics? I've read the same glowing reviews for "The Sopranos" in virtually every newspaper in the country. I'm beginning to think that most local critics (usually someone fired from the obituary beat) simply read Howard Rosenberg in the Los Angeles Times or Tom Shales in the Washington Post and simply regurgitate their reviews.

Given the enormous impact of television in popular culture, it would be nice if we had genuine critics on the TV beat, not glorified hacks who can't get enough of Tony Soprano.

-- Gary Pounder, Montgomery, Ala.


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