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Monday, October 20, 2003


There's been a lot of bloggy controversy over Gregg Easterbrook's rant on violence in movies (specifically in the new Quentin Tarantino film Kill Bill), which concludes with:

Disney's CEO, Michael Eisner, is Jewish; the chief of Miramax, Harvey Weinstein, is Jewish. Yes, there are plenty of Christian and other Hollywood executives who worship money above all else, promoting for profit the adulation of violence. Does that make it right for Jewish executives to worship money above all else, by promoting for profit the adulation of violence? Recent European history alone ought to cause Jewish executives to experience second thoughts about glorifying the killing of the helpless as a fun lifestyle choice. But history is hardly the only concern. Films made in Hollywood are now shown all over the world, to audiences that may not understand the dialogue or even look at the subtitles, but can't possibly miss the message--now Disney's message--that hearing the screams of the innocent is a really fun way to express yourself.

As Meryl Yourish pointed out, this is a major WTF moment. How did Jews get into this? Why does he feel that their position as Jews have anything to do with it, rather than, say, their position as men, or as white men, or as rich white men, or as rich white men whose names contain the "ei" dipthong?

A few days later (about three weeks in blog time), Easterbrook issued an apology, saying that he had expressed himself poorly, that he stood by the thinking behind his words, but agreed that his phrasing was very bad.

Roger Simon pronounced this apology adequate, but just barely, saying "I would think some honest self-examination is in order." Meryl says she accepts it, but later suggests it's a "non-apology apology".

Other people---commenters on Roger Simon's blog, or on LGF (example here)---don't even give him that much credit.

While I think people were certainly right to wonder what the hell was going on, and to criticize his words, I think they're going overboard when they still suspect him of harboring (perhaps unconscious) anti-Semitic feelings. Here's the relevant bit of his apology:

I wondered about the consciences of those running Disney and Miramax. Were they Christian? How could a Christian rationalize seeking profits from a movie that glorifies killing as a sport, even as a form of pleasure? I think it's fair to raise faith in this context...

He deplores the over-the-top violence in films. He wonders about the guys who let Tarantino get away with this. What are they thinking? Are they Christian? How could a Christian justify (to himself) making such violent films?

So he looks up the movie executives in question. Huh. That theory falls flat---they're not Christians, they're Jews. Hmmm. But wait! That's even worse! Jews have been the targets of terrible violence in the past century, and even now have prime ministers baying for their blood. How can they justify making violence seem enjoyable, knowing that they are the disproportionate targets of violence?

It seems pretty clear to me that his reasoning went something like this.

Of course, I find it----well, I won't say "chilling", or "disturbing" or "ominous", but instead perhaps "telling"---that practically the first thing he wonders is, "Were they Christian?" I've heard this before; in this case it's tantamount to asking, "Weren't they Christian?"---an answer expected to be answered in the affirmative, and followed by a lecture as to why such-and-such is not Christian behavior.

In other words, it sounds as if Easterbrook was prepared to offer a little sermon on Good Christian Living to men who were (perhaps only nominally) Christians; in my youth, this was a favorite pastime of little old ladies with a lot of time on their hands. In this case, however, his targets foiled his plan by being Jewish.

I don't know whether this is SOP for him, or whether his mind was still on the case of Mel Gibson:

I think it's fair to raise faith in this context: In fact I did exactly that one week earlier, when I wrote a column about the movie The Passion asking how we could take Mel Gibson seriously as a professed Christian, when he has participated in numerous movies that glorify violence.

I don't think it's fair at all to raise faith in this context, unless of course you believe that it would be impossible for your co-religionists to have any other understanding of a Christian's role than the one you hold.

Gibson, however, may be an exception. He's claimed that he's created his movie, The Passion, out of his Christian faith. One might question the sincerity of his religious beliefs in the light of his movie career (though I don't really see why), but that's because he's made this explicit claim. Eisner and Weinstein have not (to my knowledge) made any such claim.

Sullivan's take on it is pretty much the same as mine, except that he sees Easterbrook's words as appeal to leading Jewish citizens to take their faith seriously, as Gregg has also written, in an identical context, about Christians.

This is the flip side of what I wrote---Sullivan sees it as a call to take one's faith seriously, I see it as an unwarranted assumption about what their faith is, and nannyish interference, to boot.

Easterbrook doesn't sound like an anti-Semite to me. He claims to belong to some church that shares space and finances with a synagogue. This wasn't enough for some people. "Oh, right, some of his best friends are Jews. Where have we heard that before? You know he's a bigot when he says something like that."

But as Glenn Reynolds pointed out, long ago (look under the heading EUROBASHING):

Actually, though, the "some of my best friends" line was originally thought uncool because of what usually followed: "my shoeshine guy, the janitor, the bartender at the country club, the yard man," etc. The "best friends" line was thus rather hypocritical: these were people who were actually servants, and only promoted to "best friend" status in the service of rebutting charges of racism.

That's not the case here. There's no reason to believe Easterbrook is not sincere about his non-problem with Jews. But there's no way for him to prove it. The "some of my best friends" remark was often countered with, "Yeah, but would you want your sister to marry one?" Easterbrook could marry off his sister, his daughter, his mother, and still be tainted in some people's eyes.