Letters

Readers attack: David Bowman's Biskind interview is a corporate sellout, the New York Times is right to banish literary obscurities, and Paul Waldman's "Fraud" -- and Salon in general -- are too harsh on George W. Bush.


Salon Staff
February 13, 2004 2:00AM (UTC)

[Read "Harpooning Hollywood," by David Bowman.]

One of the more depressing sentences I've read in recent memory comes from David Bowman in his interview with Peter Biskind, to wit: "As you get older you realize perhaps the biggest triumph of, say, 'Lost in Translation' is that she managed to get the money to make it." Really? The biggest one? Herein lies the essential sadness of the modern leftist journo, admitting that his ideals have sunk with age to the point where he has capitulated entirely to the modern capitalist model of commodified form trumping any consideration of style or content.

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Indeed, like most critics and journalists today, Bowman sees independent cinema as merely a steppingstone to reputedly bigger and better things, and that anyone who manages to get into Sundance, for example, is merely biding his or her time, clamoring and clawing his or her way up the snaky ladder to becoming the next Tarantino or Soderbergh. It's this attitude of the media -- salivating for the next commercial entity, pulling into focus only that which smells of money or celebrity -- that is killing the spirit of independent film.

Sundance not so much. My most recent movie, despite being an anti-capitalist, agit-porn tome shot on a shoestring, was programmed at Sundance, and, despite its overt sexual content, even had a spirited, sold-out screening in Salt Lake City. While at the festival I met directors of both short and feature-length films from all over the globe -- yes, even from noncapitalist countries -- with an impressive breadth of agendas and motivations for being there, including the by now slightly déclassé notion that art actually means something.

I suggest that Bowman go back and dig out the Jumpcuts -- a journal that I also read fervently in the '70s -- that are gathering moss in his closet before he loses his cinematic moral compass entirely. To say, as he does, that "at festival's end, the only film of note appeared to be a documentary about a man who ate Big Macs for a month" is not only insulting, it's bad journalism. It's not the filmmakers or the programmers of Sundance who are not supporting the true spirit of independent film, it's a craven, corporatized media that willfully ignores filmmakers who happily spend their lives -- horrors -- making movies outside the Hollywood system. I suggest Bowman cancel his subscription to Variety and stop fixating so much on box office and the almighty dollar.

-- Bruce LaBruce

[Read "Tempest at the Times," by Christopher Dreher.]

To defend Bill Keller's planned changes at the New York Times Book Review, I really can't do better than quote one of his detractors. The editors' comments, he says, suggest that they don't understand readers whose support "is to the Book Review as the Christian right is to the conservatives."

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The vast majority of readers are going to thank Keller for rescuing the publication from the clutches of a cultish few.

-- James M. Manheim

Should the New York Times expand its book review section to include mass-market books? Of course. You don't see the same elitism in music, film or art review sections. Plus, the level of quality in both mysteries and science fiction has expanded to such a degree that select titles in each should be allowed weekly featured reviews.

Should first-novel reviews be abandoned? Of course not. Again, film, music and art reviewers do not run from quality just because it is not mass released, and the Times has a responsibility to ring the bells when new fiction talent has arrived.

As to poetry: I hope it doesn't lose its voice in the Times Book Review, but the truth of the matter is that almost no one reads poetry anymore outside the classroom. Most poets don't read new poetry (check out the ratio of subscribers to submissions at any poetry journal if you don't believe me). It is a quaint form that has lost its relevancy.

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-- Brian Dunn

I hope what Dreher writes is wrong. If time allowed, I would check him on it to see if the initial impression of Times readers wasn't simply alarmist.

But, like everything else everywhere, the Times' actions point toward a familiar pattern: Editorial judgment replaced by profit hunting. Dreher's "Gatsby" comparison is apt.

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It is not overstating it to say that what good books contain is our collective humanity. Why am I not surprised that even arts sections of major dailies are trying to stamp it out?

It's also ironic that a recent piece in the Times concerned the thriving London stage. A revival of "Mourning Becomes Electra" and a new play by Martin McDonagh "about storytelling and torture in a totalitarian state" are currently being shown. Of London theatergoers, the Times' Ben Brantley writes: "Audiences are leaving theaters looking depleted, disturbed and immensely satisfied ... The most popular movies at the moment may be the same splashy fantasies that are captivating Americans. But the best plays in [London] and the hardest to get into are anything but escapist."

Psychiatrists everywhere confront daily throngs of people who can't seem to find meaning in life. But, rather than coming to understand their humanity through celebrated writers like Dostoevsky or Joyce Carol Oates, I suppose the standard treatment is a regimen of the highly marketed SSRI antidepressants Paxil or Zoloft.

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Incidentally, if this is to be our collective trajectory, we might as well abandon liberal arts education altogether (if we haven't already). We'll simply replace it with business courses like "Mass Marketing 101" and "Intro to Selling."

-- John Guess

[Read "Building a Better Bush," by Paul Waldman.]

Why do so many of the Salon writers, including this one, refer to "Bush's landing on the Abraham Lincoln"?

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The man did not land on the carrier, he was flown onto the carrier by the S-3 Viking pilot. Bush's hands were off the controls -- why don't you people point that fact out?

It's just more of the Bush façade that, unfortunately, your writers are helping perpetuate.

Hell, by that standard, I've made tens of carrier landings (but always flown by a pilot onto the carrier I was stationed aboard -- the USS John F. Kennedy).

-- Thomas R. Fletcher

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Paul Waldman's article was interesting and was what every progressive/liberal knows about Bush and what every Bush supporter doesn't care to learn.

Progressives are making quite an effort recently to bring out the truth about Bush. That is fine as far as it goes but it doesn't go very far.

Bush and the Republicans in general are masters at using language and intimidating the press corps.

Last night on NPR a linguist from UC-Berkeley was discussing how adept the far right is at phrasing things to benefit themselves and sell people on what they want. One point he made is that people don't vote in their best interest. They vote for the person who uses language best to frame an issue in a favorable light.

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Right now, as the election nears, the Democratic candidates are doing what they always do: Trying to explain to people what is in their best interest. They are, as usual, failing miserably. People aren't interested in what is in their best interest. They are caught and held by the man who can frame his argument the best and that man is, hands down, George Bush. Hearing Bush frame his arguments for tax cuts makes Kerry look like just what Bush paints him as: "elite," "French looking," "tax and spend," "whiny," "wealthy," "bleating," "married to a rich bitch," "unpatriotic," "Communist."

None of that is probably true, but the words coming out of Kerry's mouth are the same old trite, overused, liberal pleadings which haven't worked even once in modern times and won't work now.

Wake up, Democrats, or the Bushies will be right: You'll never win another election.

-- Fran Spragens

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It's a shame that Paul Waldman took his insightful analysis and thorough research and couched it in the bitterest, most partisan caricatures. How Bush Jr. and his handlers have constructed his image, and why the American people have responded to something so phony, is fascinating. But do we really need the tired labeling of Republicans as the "party ... singularly devoted to the interests of [the] few"? Or the Clintonian conspiracy fantasy of the "conservative media apparatus" -- as though Rupert Murdoch, Rush Limbaugh and Wesley Pruden spent every Friday night together in a smoky country club, plotting evil deeds?

This tone of smug self-righteousness, this rejection of nuance, this characterization of the "enemy" as both sinister and ridiculous, has long been the bread and butter of right-wing blowhards like Bill O'Reilly. That it's making inroads into respectable liberal quarters disgusts me. It confirms my view that all that fundamentally separates conservatives and liberals are some understandable philosophical differences; those on either side of the aisle have the same chance of being thoughtful and fair-minded, or facile and prejudiced.

What a shame that Waldman seems content to cater to the latter set of lefties. It's this sort of thing that makes me throw books aside with great force -- and makes this liberal very hesitant to renew her Salon membership.

-- Claire J. Vannette

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Yeah, Bush pretending to be a down-home Texan is about as believable as John Kerry pretending to be a warrior against special interests. Both are rather pathetic, but I notice Salon has no articles about Kerry's superficial attempts to play the populist.

Yes, Republicans have a tendency to demonize intellectuals. But Democrats are just as likely to unfairly demonize businessmen or the rich.

I'm a Democrat and I am starting to worry that Salon is losing its balance. Do we really need a monthly feature of anti-Bush screeds that usually are not worth the paper they are printed on? What's next, a fawning profile of Michael Moore's crusade for the truth?

-- Kyle Swanson


Salon Staff

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