Sometimes, critique of ideology is just a matter of displacing the accent.  Fox News’s Glenn Beck, the infamous Groucho Marx of the populist Right, deserves his reputation for provoking laughter –  but not where he intends to do so.  The dramaturgy of his typical routine begins with a violently satiric presentation of his opponents and their arguments, accompanied by a grimacing worthy of Jim Carrey; this part, which is supposed to make us laugh, is then followed by a “serious” sentimental moral message.  But we should simply postpone our laughter to this concluding moment: it is the stupidity of the final “serious” point which is laughable, not the acerbic satire whose vulgarity should merely embarrass any decent thinking person.

Zizek, Slavoj.  (2010).  Living in the end times. London: Verso Books.  4, footnote 2.

I am not sure why I decided to read this article to-day.  Procrastination?  Even though the end of the debate season and impending freedom is the growing light at he end of the tunnel?  Regardless of cause, I needed the good laugh.

Mendelsohn’s argument is that Inglorious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino: Pulp Fiction)  is a bad film.  Maybe he doesn’t it find it bad in the artistic sense, but he finds it bad in the dangerous sense.

An alternative, and morally superior, form of “revenge” for Jews would be to do precisely what Jews have been doing since World War II ended: that is, to preserve and perpetuate the memory of the destruction that was visited upon them, precisely in order to help prevent the recurrence of such mass horrors in the future.

I have two orders of criticism of this alternative.  First, Mendelsohn is incorrect about his description of the real Jewish act of remembrance and second, this alternative, even if descriptively accurate, is the real danger.

Are Jews merely remembering?  No.  Munich (Steven Spielberg: Saving Private Ryan) was based on a true story.  That is clearly not a case of mere remembrance.  Hunting down former Nazis and having them extradited and prosecuted is not mere remembrance.  Some will argue, correctly I believe, that the Palestinian/Zionist issue is also a manifestation of the Jewish attempt to say ‘never again.’  Even if the Palestinian/Zionist issue is not an active policy for revenge, it clearly demonstrates the inaccuracy of Mendelsohn’s remembrance alternative.

Mendelsohn will probably answer this order of argumentation with a distinction based on revenge and (some other process).  After all, what other possible reason can he have had for drawing the quotation marks around ‘revenge’?  He knew his error and still decided to take the palatable position (it was published in Newsweek, after all); drawing erasure around ‘revenge’ was a way to front load the response, to pre-empt, to my criticism.

Second order, memory vs killing.  It is not odd that Mendelsohn valorizes the current Jewish revenge act of remembering.  What else are they to do?  The Nazis are gone and/or already punished.  The reason may not have anything to do with a choice.  The Jews of that time, the kind in the movie, had a choice.  Mendelsohn, however, equivocates them as having the same options before them.  This is a silly burden to place Tarantino within.

In the Tarantino/Mendelsohn binary, I would put my money on Tarantino as being the one with the most horsepower.  An odd prediction for me as I would almost always bet on the critic.  Maybe Tarantino’s larger argument is one not about revenge but rather about violence.  Mendelsohn resonates with me when he says the Jews in the climax scene are nearly the same as the very Nazis they are exterminating.  Yes.  And that is what I found to be the brilliance of Tarantino’s movie.  Both the Jew and the Nazi were acting a violent revenge fantasy.  Mendelsohn’s insight stops short.  Sadly, this does not prevent Mendelsohn from lodging a criticism based upon morality.  This is what is known as exceptionalism (a topic worthy of a career, let alone a blog post).

I will return to the next two paradoxical concepts later: abnegation (acting out to prevent acting future acting out) and interruption.  Both are reasons why Mendelsohn’s alternative is wrong.  It is interesting that Mendelsohn cites ‘inversion’ at the top of his piece (the description) but then forgets its relevance in the bottom (the criticism) because inversion is the product of the interruption.

One last aside.  Mendelsohn foreshadows his own jumping-the-rails in the second paragraph.

Tarantino, who began his career as a video-store clerk,

That’s an interesting aside.  It is accurate.  But why is it said?  There are two reasons, assuming that a good writer (Mendelsohn usually is) uses every word carefully.  First: it is an act of denigration: most filmmakers begin in school, but Tarantino did not hence his lackluster-ness is understandable and predictable; second, as exemplariness: most filmmakers begin their careers in school, hence Tarantino’s magnificence and brilliance.  I decided to default to the second reading, even if I was not a fan of Tarantino’s prior work.  But, I’m an optimist.

Mendelsohn, however, intended the first reading, the lackluster impression of Tarantino.  Fourth paragraph:

[M]ovies aren’t real life, and this is where Tarantino, with his video-store vision of the world, gets into trouble.

Serve that sentence up with a side of anti-intellectualism and you get Sarah Palin (anti-intellectual and privilege masked as populism).  Maybe that sentence was not quite fair: the Sarah Palin function also requires sentimentality.  But wait, the Mendelsohn “morally superior” alternative is precisely sentimentality: historic revisionism where the people of the past are given to-day’s options.

This match is easy to call and predict: An Evening with Kevin Smith (KS). I do not know why I placed Emanuel’s Gift (EG) in my queue and after seeing the movie I am still not sure. EG was the good liberal movie whereas there are times in KS that an actual sophisticated argument against the sentimental-driven documentary is made. That level of nuance already makes a winner easy to determine. All of this is without backsliding into the Disney-is-evil debate that has, sadly, become too prominent.

The reason why KS is so engaging, it is almost 4 hours long and I did not even notice, is summed up by C.K. Ogi over at Amazon.com:

Smith is one of the best story tellers our society has. He really has a gift for just starting a story, leaving no stone unturned, and just engaging you into what he’s relating. His story about writing the script for Superman will have you in tears. Another good one is his encounter with Prince. Smith has an easy-going, self-depricating style that’s combined with a smart guy who LOVES the heck outta movies.

EG however is not good story telling. It is sentimentalism at its finest. The movie makes us sad and yet also happy that this young man was able to rise beyond the usual outcome for Ghana’s disabled bodies. The movie leaves some unanswered questions, especially those that would make us as privileged people in the developed world uncomfortable. If we ever needed proof of sentimentalism’s ability to move or prevent movement this was it. I discovered the following quotation on PopFeminist and it smacks of its appropriateness:

Sentimentality is the feather duster in the junkyard of the human condition. It is a fundamentally inadequate method of handling the plights of our country, but emotive and earnest enough to obfuscate the material circumstances of injustice with personal feelings and alleviate its weeping participants of the burden of real change.