Thursday, August 09, 2007

Friday Morning Referee

Diesel seems to want me to do a travelogue, but I'm not sure what else there is to say that's sports-related other than that we went to games at Chavez and McAfee and enjoyed both of the parks immensely, even if the games themselves were pretty boring. So I'll take up the Easterbrook issue instead, since it interests me more.

I've also liked Easterbrook's stuff in the past, and I also have a number of problems with the latest TMQ offering. For one thing, this installment seems notably more prolix than usual. He's always written long, but he usually keeps me reading, and this time I found myself scrolling past paragraphs at a time. Part of it is the subject matter; the preseason has not even started in earnest, and so he's left to ruminate on things neither I nor, I imagine, many other of his readers care a whole lot about: the player's union, Harry Potter, the AFL, lawnmowers, and so on. I understand that his broad expertise and interests are supposed to be part of his appeal, but still, I think this is a big mistake on his part: just because it's the preseason doesn't mean you have to bombard us with all of this irrelevance. If you're not generating any interest from me -- one of the more academic and longer attention-spanned football fans you're likely to find -- it's probably safe to say you're boring the shit out of pretty much everybody. The answer's simple: cut it short. Of course, much of this points toward the biggest problem with Page 2, which is that there's apparently no editorial oversight whatsoever, except for the censors watching out for anything that could be construed as anti-Disney. I've covered this at length before.

His stances on a lot of the topics also strike me as gratuitously contrarian, in some cases bizarrely so. The Sopranos critique, for instance, simply baffled me: he blasts a mafia series for being too violent and too breasty? Then he rips it for not being realistic enough, basing most of his claim on obscure details like the botany of the Pine Barrens and the intricacies of liquor licenses in New Jersey? Spare me. It's drama, not reality television. Don't be such a technical dick.

And it only gets worse from there: He even goes so far as to call anybody who claims to like the Sopranos for the family scenes a liar. Here's an idea, Easterbrook: I think the Sopranos was so innovative because it was perhaps the first phenomenon-popular TV series that dealt with crime and social issues without designating the good guys and the bad guys. Maybe it's such a great show, such a cultural institution, not because it has a lot of violence and tits -- you can get both on late-night Showtime (or so I hear...) -- but because David Simon created some of the most interesting and complex characters television has ever seen. Maybe it was considered so innovative because it was really the first successful foray by a premium cable channel into multi-season dramatic series, and because it turned out to be such a high-quality show. It had great actors, great directing, spectacular writing -- it was essentially an 80-hour-long good Mafia movie. That's never been done before, and it paved the way for even better stuff, such as the single greatest television series ever made, The Wire.

He seems to be basing a lot of his judgments, against the Sopranos and elsewhere, on staunchly moralistic grounds. So, yes, I do think he's starting to sound preachy. Actually, he's starting to remind me too much of a preacher: one minute he quotes the Bible, and the next he's quite lecherously discussing thongs and making cracks about the natural hair color of cheerleaders. It's all a little weird to me, a little creepy and repressed, and it smacks of everything I hate about born-again-ism: the judgmental worldview, the superiority, the hypocrisy, the evangelism.


I've also got some real problems with the first half of your letter to Easterbrook. It's ridiculous to claim that the man's "rational worldview is being seriously compromised by (his) religious zeal." Speaking of arguments being compromised by zeal, how about comparing Easterbrook to Ann Coulter? If you want to talk about writing pap, how about referring to TV psychics as "mystics"? I mean, the dude's a fellow at probably the single most respected think tank in America. He's also an editor at one of the smartest magazines extant. He's a multipublished author, a respected thinker, and, what's more, he's one of the few public figures in the contemporary tsunami of self-righteousness who's brave enough to admit when he is wrong. For that last, especially, I admire him. I hardly think questioning his very commitment to reason is justified here.

I also think your entire Harry Potter argument is incoherent and irresponsible. Easterbrook makes a completely reasonable -- and, I think, astute -- observation that the Harry Potter series skirts the issue of religion and/or God. If true (I have no idea), that's a notable absence: you won't find many 200-page novels that don't mention God in some sense, much less a series of a half-dozen books, some of which weigh in north of 700 pages. The issue of God and religious belief is even more important in children's books, I think: parents should understand and appreciate whether and how their children are being indoctrinated by what they read (and watch, and hear, for that matter).

And what you conveniently fail to mention, Diesel, is that the religion issue arises not because Easterbrook artificially holds Harry Potter up against other children's series -- as both you and your selective quotation of the column suggest -- but because Rowling decided to directly quote the Bible multiple times in the final book.

Easterbrook's observation of this phenomena remains exactly that: an observation. He soon drifts off into a critique of the Golden Compass series and anti-Christian books in general (more on that later). He never commends Rowling for including Biblical quotations; he just points them out and discusses them. By so doing, he's actually empowering any parents who may read the column to make their own decision regarding the religious content. So to accuse him of inventing the issue in order to "bully" anybody, much less atheists, is both disingenuous and irresponsible. I understand that you're very attuned to the precariousness of the atheist position in an increasingly religion-dominated world, but I think you're inventing the oppression in this case.

However, again.

The second half of your letter could not be more accurate. I absolutely and vehemently agree with you about Easterbrook's use of the word "jihadis" when describing the three other "anti-Christian" authors. That is hyperbole at its most asinine, and it shocked me when I first read the word. I expect much better from a mind like his. He does have some history of head-up-assedness when it comes to his choice of words, especially when critiquing movies and books, and this latest column -- especially the "jihadi" -- seems like the kind of thing he might wind up regretting. Respected intellectuals simply can't go around comparing their rivals to terrorists in an international forum. It's indefensible, it's stupid, and it's wrong. Further, I think it warrants an apology.

If it does, though, I bet he gives that apology. I'll give him that much credit, and to me, that means an awful lot.

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