Friday, December 22, 2006

Penny Press! GQ and POROUS BORDERS!

Three things of interest in the new GQ, each a little more interesting than the last.

First, a breezy one-page appreciation of Peter O'Toole that manages, accidentally it seems, to hit a few right notes. As many of you may know, we here at Stevereads consider O'Toole to be the greatest actor of the 20th century, and we never tire of championing his good works to all and sundry.

The problem is, his good work forms only about 25 percent of his total work, and the other 75 percent of the time, he's not only not great - he stinks. That ratio of success (which he shares in almost exact proportion with his acting coevals, Michael Caine, Richard Burton, David Warner, and Richard Harris ... out of the group, the only exception is Albert Finney. In his entire career, Albert Finney has never given a performance that was anything but perfect. Go figure) is tough to sell to the Gameboy generation.

All these current magazine puff-pieces don't make things any easier. Yes, they all mention 'Lawrence of Arabia,' and yes, O'Toole is good in it (and it's a great movie in its own right). But then they ALL seem to blather on and on about O'Toole's COMEDIES, which is confusing. OK, the man had near-perfect comedic timing - but nevertheless, most of his comedies ('My Favorite Year' notwithstanding) are pretty thin soup.

This piece is no different, singing the praises of 'What's New, Pussycat?' in the same breath that it refers to 'Becket' as a 'fantastic hamfest' ... for those of you reading this (and really, who ISN'T reading this?), be advised: 'Becket' is a brilliantly written, brilliantly acted movie - it is not by any stretch of the imagination a 'hamfest.' We here at Stevereads can't STAND it when hipster-doofuses dismiss all passionate non-method acting as 'scenery-chewing.' Just because you've lived your whole videogame-playing 20 years believing that feeling passion for ANYTHING is, like, lame doesn't make it so. If you're looking for the key to good acting, think Zach Braff in 'Scrubs' and not Zach Braff in 'Garden State,' ya pill-popping little tools.

This piece cites O'Toole's new movie 'Venus' as a strong bet to win him Best Actor. This is doubtful (most of our industry-watchers say it's a train wreck), but can't take anything away from O'Toole's performances in 'Good-Bye Mr. Chips' or 'The Director' or 'Masada,' or, of course, 'The Lion in Winter.'

Elsewhere in the issue, there's a fairly moving piece by Rob Sheffield about how he married young - and then was widowed young, when his young wife Renee suddenly collapses one day and is dead in minutes.

Sheffield's account of their courtship and married life is quite touching (including their adoption of a young beagle from the pound), and his narration of his reactions on the day she died will strike a true and painful chord with anybody who's ever lost someone they loved:

"That was the first moment anyone said anything about Renee dying. It seemed like such a long time before I heard my stupid voice asking, 'She died?' The sun was streaking through the leaves in the yard next door. The upstairs neighbors' air conditioner was right over my head, drip, drip, drip. The EMT said something about God, but she was just trying to be kind. Maybe it was a heart attack, she said; it was too soon to tell. I was sure they would find something in Richmond they hadn't found here, and I knew they would be bringing Renee back later that day."

And later:

"I didn't want to get up off the floor, because I wanted to be there when Renee called and said she was coming home."

The piece is an excerpt from an forthcoming book. We here at Stevereads hope the book, unlike the excerpt, has something good to say about what happened to the beagle.

Ah, but the big piece in this issue, the real prize-winner, is about that always-fraught subject: the US-Mexican border!

Specifically, the so-called 'Minutemen' who patrol chunks of the border looking to catch-and-release 'illegals' streaming over from Mexico. The author of the piece (at first, as is my custom, I intentionally didn't look at the name - I like to pre-empt any personal predilections that way, so no hapless freelancer is hindered by his past strike-out ratio) spends two weeks with a group of these Minutemen and gets them to open up about themselves.

The piece is immediately compulsive, pulling you in with a perfect blend of fact and anecdote. Take this, for example:

"Some National Guardsmen come in and sit nearby, and this gets us on the subject of Iraq. Brian, a smart, articulate Minuteman, originally from Massachusetts, who has traveled all over the world - Brazil, Japan, India - says Fallujah should have been leveled. He sends this out like a blustering trial balloon. Is he nuts? I ask. How many women and children would that have required killing? Well, he says, that happens once, it doesn't happen again. Hello? I say. Are you really saying that? Little kids, old ladies? Well, he says, you order them out first. Come on, I say, think about New Orleans. People in Fallujah are much poorer than that, how do they 'get out'? What do they do, rent cars? Call taxis? Could you give that order? I don't think you could, and I don't think you would.
'He looks chastened and does a remarkable thing, given that he's arguing with a Liberal, in front of his own people: He reverses position.
"'You're right,' he says. 'I wouldn't, no.'"

Right about that point, I thought: not only is this an interesting article, but this writer is really pretty good. He has a slangy command of mood that struck me as vaguely familiar.

Then I read this:

"The Minutemen cannot detain an illegal. They cannot harass. All they can do is call the Border Patrol. So why the guns? They don't, they say, want to be overrun by the cartel. Has a Minuteman ever been shot, or shot at, by the cartel? No. But conceptualizing the cartel dudes as Scarfacian monsters, the Minutemen come out armed to meet them in the night and thereby rev themselves up, and yet there's no training - Art is the most experienced Minuteman on our Team (Lance and Scott are both first-timers).
"So, a prediction: Eventually, somebody's going to get shot. It may be a Minuteman, it may be a cartel dude, it may be some little kid standing scared at the back of a group of migrants - but eventually, I tell Art, all this tension and drama is going to lead to something tragic.
"'You don't come into my house, man,' Art says."
"'This isn't your house,' I say.
"'Oh, it sure is,' he says. 'This is my country.'
"'Your house is your house,' I say. 'This is some dude's ranch.'"

It was at this point that I flipped back to see just who it was I was reading, and I shouldn't have been surprised: George Saunders, one of our very best new-ish writers. Almost his whole piece is quotable and sharp, but in addition to liking it for those qualities, I couldn't help but think about it too, since the piece is a veritable dossier of Liberal soft-think on the question of porous borders. Right around the point where Saunders starts musing about the beauty of the landscape, I pictured my colleague the Reichmarshal's head popping off in outrage.

I think it would be only fair to say that the Reichmarshal, like Saunders' Minutemen (and indeed like most Americans, especially in the Southwest), is intensely xenophobic. There should be an immense and forbidding wall - like the gates of Mordor, one imagines - across the whole length of the border, and the movement through it should be only one-way: hunted-down and rounded-up 'illegals' being sent back to their own country.

Our views here at Stevereads have already been aired and outraged-upon: the United States should solve its border problems with Mexico by conquering the country (with or without - but most likely with - the cooperation of the Mexican power-structure already intact).

But that's only in a perfect world, one dominated by the Roman empire! Here in the practical world, we need practical solutions, and really don't think the Minutemen are it. A bunch of redneck yahoos roaming around in the shrubbery armed to the teeth? Yeah - what could possibly go wrong with THAT?

But neither is the Reichmarshal's solution practical. The wall, quite apart from its moral shortcomings, would require ten years and several billion dollars to build and maintain - but it's the moral shortcomings that really put it beyond the pale. Where would the Reichmarshal be, after all, if such a wall had been in place when his Junker forefathers first came to this country? Where would we here at Stevereads be, if the border had turned away our grandparents from Ireland? Where, really, would any of us be (kindly keep yer perky mouth shut, My Lady Disdain! None of us want to hear about the friggin Mayflower, ya blue-blooded pop tart!)?

No, closed borders aren't the answer either. I'm not in favor of Saunders' hippy-dippy live-and-let-live stance, not by a long shot: there aren't enough jobs to go around for actual US citizens, without adding millions of 'illegals' to the mix. But for a country with so much to take people from a country with so little and TURN THEM BACK ... well, that seems fundamentally wrong.

Perhaps we should open the question up to the vast array of minds available here at Stevereads (posters and lurkers alike)? What approach should be taken - say, by the next President - to the problem of the 'porous' US-Mexican border?

And just to pre-empt the predictable 'Mayflower 400' response: no, My Lady Disdain, "personally, we're not thrilled that ANY of you are here" is not an acceptable answer....


Anonymous said...

One has lurked here for some months now and is surprised that this omnivorous and amusing blog has not yet attracted more than a small coterie of posters. By way of good-natured support, one hereby throw in one's two cents. It will be noted that nothing of what follows pertains to the topic of GQ and porous borders, but one has to start somewhere.

Three recent apodictic assertions draw one's immediate attention. The first is an obiter dictum found in a discussion of the new Mailer book, to the effect that Pynchon's latest novel Against the Day is a "false-born monstrosity." Now as regards Pynchon, de gustibus non est etc., and one will not be drawn into a discussion of the validity of that judgment, preferring to agree to disagree where necessary, and so on. But one desires to place this judgment in context: what of Pynchon's other novels, Steve? Is any of them not a false-born monstrosity? One feels sure you have read them all.

The second regards the very capable survey of the collected numbers of New Genre. You nominate the story "Wonderfreaks" as the best of the "run" to date, and one readily concurs that it is indeed a fine tale, but one cannot help feeling that if Wildt's story appealed to you over some of the journal's other excellent offerings (including some you mentioned with approval), then your evident failure to appreciate the same author's "Bink Is Luv" bespeaks a tendency to speedread, or perhaps just an unconscious identification with the protagonist of the former story, who is, after all, a polymath named Steve.

Thirdly, one simply cannot allow the tasteless provocations regarding John Updike ("Die, already"?) to go unanswered. True, "dithering senility" seems to be drawing uncomfortably close for this grey eminence; scenes like that in Toward the End of Time, in which the elderly hero gamahuches something like a twelve-year-old, lend support to your view. But Updike, who deserves the Nobel almost as much as Philip Roth, stands as far more than our foremost anatomizer of middle-class malaise. One defies you, Steve, to produce the name of another author who so thoroughly and masterfully treats both the union and the intersection of sex, science, and spirituality in modern America or in any other time and place.



Anonymous said...

First off, my ancestors came from County Cork not East Prussia, and although they came to the U.S. as some of the poorest people on Earth, they came here legally and without any expectation that they would be able to collect welfare, camp out at hospitals, and be spoken to in Irish, all at the expense of U.S. citizens. The notion that the U.S. cannot defend (and defend is the correct word for this conversation) its own borders is ridiculous; there is a difference between cannot and will not. Also, there is a difference between desirable immigrants and undesirable immigrants; most Mexicans belong to the latter group. The reason Mexico is in such a sorry state is because of the people that live there. Some cultures are poor not only in terms of money, but in terms of work ethic, honesty, and civic virtue as well; these cultures are inferior to ours and should be acknowledged as such. Allowing Mexicans to ruin our country (as they have ruined theirs) might soothe some bleeding hearts, but most patriotic Americans reject this. The Minutemen are heroes, not rednecks. They carry weapons (which I believe they should be allowed to use on foreigners that violate our soil on sight) because the untermensch, ah excuse me, Mexicans crossing into are country are CRIMINALS, some of whom have displayed violent behavior towards American law enforcement and civilians alike. A border fence must be built in order to protect our republic from the flotsam and jetsam of the third world. My design calls for it to be about 30ft high, electrified, and with a minefield in front of it. Reichmarshal

Jeff E. said...

Interesting catch today, Steve. What are you using for bait? Dynamite?

steve said...

First off, welcome, Bertrand! May your lurking days be forever over!

A) Quite the contrary, I, like everybody else, consider 'Gravity's Rainbow' to be a masterpiece - and I myself think 'Mason & Dixon' is even better, in almost every way. Where 'Against the Day' fails is in its hubris - Pynchon thinking that his just 'doing' Pynchon for a thousand pages is sufficient artistic justification for a book existing. Many other authors have fallen into this trap, so he's got distinguished company - but that doesn't make it any less of a trap.

B)Nope, no speedreading here. FAST reading, yes, but always meticulous. 'Bink is Luv' was passed over because its premise - and a good deal of its execution - was entirely based on gimmicks, and that dates pretty quickly. I doubt if even Wildt's closest friends would ever be tempted to read the story a second time.

C) I thoroughly disagree, as of course you know. Updike and Roth are almost entirely talentless. Their appeal to middle America has always been a twofold kind of deceit: first, by holding up an ultimately flattering mirror (after all, if we were THAT banal, they wouldn't be writing about us, right?), and by serving up such journeyman prose that every stock-jobber in Larchmont could entertain the possibility of writing his own 'Portnoy's Complaint.'

In nominating substitutes, I come up against a problem that always stops me at dinner parties and dorm room bull-sessions: most of my candidates are dead. One of the most important, most irrelevant selling points for Updike and Roth is that they happen to be alive, while most of their betters are dead. But as far as 20th century chroniclers go, I'd nominate Mary McCarthy, Tom Wolfe (I defend utterly all three of his brilliant novels), the early John Barth, Evan Connell's 'Mr Bridge' and 'Mrs Bridge,' the masterful novel 'The View from Pompey's Head,' the criminally underrated John Gardner, and of course the mighty Joseph Heller, among others.

steve said...

See, Reichmarshal, that's where your earnestly-held beliefs start to engender awkward silences. There's a word for the belief that an ENTIRE PEOPLE can possess a bad personal trait - and it's not a pretty word.

Sam Sacks said...

Were this blog appearing one hundred fifty years ago, the Anglo-Saxon branch of my ancestry would be righteously calling the Reichsmarshal's family from County Cork a bunch of spud-stuffing, bog-trotting, illiterate, superstitious, rock-worshipping barbarian degenerates who steal jobs then do them badly, live in filthy hovels, form gangs, leech off of naive public welfare, become repulsively corrupt the second they gain any power, talk incoherently (ever heard a Cork accent?), and smell bad. Of course, my ancestors would never have actually MET any Irish people, they would have formed their summary judgments at the breakfast table and through the upper-class grapevines, borne on by fear and arrogance and privilege and boredom. Thank goodness that sort of passive, rhetorical racism is a thing of the past!

Beepy said...

Wow, Reichmarshal, if I didn't know you I would think that you were playing a character on this blog.

I was signing in to wish everyone here on this blog Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men, but I think I'll put it under a different topic. It wouldn't seem right here.

lockep said...
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lockep said...
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lockep said...
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lockep said...

Sorry -- I'd posted a couple replies to Riechmarshal's silliness, but in Christmas Eve hindsight, I realized not that I was being too mean or harsh, but rather that I was wasting my time by rising to the bait of someone goofy and cartoonish enough to actually CALL himself "Reichmarshal" and post things about "inferior" races. My bad.

Have a Merry Christmas, Reichmarshal, and I hope your jackboots--hung by the camp oven with care--are filled to the brim with teeny tiny Mexicans out to take your job and impregnate your female relatives. Feliz Navidad!

Anonymous said...

Defend is not the correct word for this conversation, because we are not experiencing an invasion. It's economically-motivated migration (*Cough...Irish...cough*). Would you, marshal, let your family wallow in poverty and sickness when you could be making more in an hour that you do in a day? Would you condemn them to that for the sake of obedience to the law? Your ancestors didn't, and nobody wanted those violent, lazy Catholic bastards here either. Now we're all thankfull for Guiness.

Speaking of inferior culture, shooting poverty-stricken families on sight, and mining borders bespeaks a contempt for the other that surely contradicts "all men are created equal." Are those the words of a patriotic American? Or is it just that all Americans are created equal. Everyone else can go fuck themselves.

And I wonder about the superiority of a culture that sends Britney Spears and 50 Cent to the top of the charts, refuses to vote, doesn't travel anywhere, and wallows in self-pity while it kills tens of thousands of civilians. But I suppose they're just stupid sand niggers anyway.

Anonymous said...

I see that I have ruffled some feathers in the salons of Cambridge! To answer your question: Yes, I actually would condemn FOREIGN CRIMINALS WHO VIOLATE OUR BORDERS AND BREAK OUR LAWS. Their contempt for this country is only rivaled in its intensity by their pervasive sense of entitlement. U.S. immigrantion policy should be made by U.S. citizens and be designed for the benefit of our country. What the Founders meant by "All men are created equal" is that all men are equal under God and the law, not that all men are equal in terms of intelligence, skill, and integrity; to say this is childish and hopelessly utopian, i.e., SOCIALIST. Reichmarshal

Anonymous said...

Again, back to the point I first made. It has little or nothing to do with contempt for this country, but concern for self and family. Who cares about laws when you're in complete poverty? Oh, I know.....nobody.

In any case, your admirable veneration of law for the sake of law rings rather hollow. Bad laws (like segregation or slavery to use extreme examples) should be broken.

As for the typical rightwing complaint about entitlement, I'm sure most of these horrible criminals wouldn't mind being legalized, paying taxes, and getting the higher wages they would invariably recieve as a result of that legality.

I'm also sure that you lie awake at night lamenting the imminent destruction of our culture and ancestral heritage. Don't all immigrants to this country tend to stick to their own, at least at first. Why, yes they do! I would remind you of John Dewey's concern for Irish immigrants around the turn of the last century, which is a relevant today as it was then:

"The power of the public schools to assimilate different races to our own institutions, through the education given to the younger generation, is doubtless one of the most remarkable exhibitions of vitality that the world has ever seen. But, after all, it leaves the older generation still untouched; and the assimilation of the younger can hardly be complete or certain as long as the homes of the parents remain comparatively unaffected. Indeed, wise observers in both New York and Chicago have recently sounded a note of alarm. They have called attention to the fact that in some respects the children are too rapidly, I will not say Americanized, but too rapidly de-nationalized. They lose the positive and conservative value of their own native traditions, their own native music, art, and literature. They do not get complete initiation into the customs of their new country, and so are frequently left floating and unstable between the two. They even learn to despise the dress, bearing, habits, language, and beliefs of their parents - many of which have more substance and worth than the superficial putting-on of the newly adopted habits."

So why not legalize the non-criminal among them (by that I mean those who were not criminals in thier country of origin), or at least extend them temporary work visas, and let the assimilation begin.

PS. Yes I know you have complaints about the job our schools are doing in teaching English and so forth, but those complaints are reasons for fixing our schools, not reasons for asserting that immigrants can't adapt or assimilate.

PPS. And who said anything about everyone being equal in terms of intelligence, skill, and integrity? (I remind you that most Irish immigrants were unskilled). And even if I were silly enough to say that, it has nothing to do with socialism, or communism for that matter. Those are political philosophies advocating structural change, which in any case were referring (with some cause) to the DIGNITY that every person deserves, not their personal qualities or their value in the marketplace.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous, clearly you are a product of our woefully inadequate public school system. Equating the objections of patriotic Americans of being forced to accept the very real social, political, and economic costs of illegal immigration to Jim Crow or slavery is mental midgetry of the first order. Our country is not in any way beholden to foreigners. The notion that anyone is entitled to our charity IS socialism. The immigrants of ages past were required to obey our laws, speak english, and assimilate. Arguing that these reasonable expectations are somehow racist is just stupid. No country has the right to pass off its problems onto the shoulders of U.S. citizens. In closing, there is a word for those that believe in scarificing our country for the sake of the Global Village. That word: TRAITOR. Reichmarshal

Anonymous said...

Well. One envisions, admittedly with some difficulty, a reader who believes that Mason & Dixon is superior to Gravity's Rainbow in almost every way. And of course one very easily envisions a reader for whom Against the Day is merely Pynchon "doing Pynchon." What is dauntingly difficult to imagine, though, is that these two readers might be one and the same. For Mason & Dixon just is a tome whose author, having already demonstrated beyond doubt a highly original and almost superhuman virtuosity, now is satisfied, perhaps having mellowed with age, to write at great length in a mode which, while not exactly resting on laurels, still admits of description as "kinder, gentler", as though this author, having shattered the world once, has no need of doing it ever again. Alternatively, perhaps he simply stopped using drugs, or at least those drugs. In any case, Against the Day seems to be more of the same, and as such quite enjoyable.

One is tempted to draw out the New Genre and Updike strands of this thread as well, but to go down three roads at once would seem to risk being, etymologically at least, trivial.

Season's Greetings,


steve said...

I'm starting to like you, Bertrand!

And of course: Reichmarshal, yer a star! A star, I tells ya!

Anonymous said...

Herr Marshal,

You are clearly the product of our woefully inadequate religious private school system, as evidenced by you're inability to comprehend the English language.

I was using the example of slavery and Jim Crow (as an extreme example, which i noted, which you obviously did not note) as an illustration of the PRINCIPLE that bad laws should be broken.

Regarding the mental midgetry, your chest-puffing jingoism speaks for itself.

As for being beholden to foreigners, an illustration of your blatant hypocrisy (or complete ignorance or your own country's history) will suffice.
Our dealings with Mexico, as with most third-world countries, are predicated upon the very idea that they are beholden to us. Why else would we tie aid packages to the assumption of our economic system and the infiltration of our own corporations? Why else would we topple a dozen or so third-world governments in the space of 50 years? Why else would we try and "reshape" a Middle East that we spent the last century shaping it into what it is now? Why would none of this bother you? Because you are a hypocrite, and since you're accusing me of an offence punishible by death, I'll say plainly what this blog's author said gently. You are a racist. You hypocricy and you previous rantings....err, statements, could only be the result of this.

And once again, I remind you that socialism is a political-economic system, and can't simply be encapsulated by a policy you disagree with. By your standanrds I would assume that you think Social Security, medicare, medicaid, food stamps, welfare, and any sort of aid for our OWN citizens who have less than us is socialist. And given your probable belief in God and the church, I find it ironic that you would be a social darwinist.

Finally, no one said that immigrants shouldn't be required to learn English, assimilate, and obey our laws (with the exeption we've been discussing this whole time). But expecting people to virtually starve and wallow in poverty when they could be making a decent living miles away is ridiculous. The world simply doesn't work that way.

Auf Wiedersehen!

steve said...

Such intelligent posters I have! Why, just look at the rhetorical flair and sheer ability on display here (including, let's be fair everybody, the Reichmarshal's!)!

Of course, some of it IS tending to stray a little too far away from the main point - how cool Steve is - but that's OK! I am, after all, a forgiving overlord ...

Sam Sacks said...

Fiery stuff indeed (although I do wish anonymous would at least use a handle, so as to distinguish him/her(/it?)self from all his/her/its shadowy kinsmen. Haply Steve will oblige him/her/it with a name, as he did the Reichmarshal).

To get back to the border issue I've decided I think this: the wall is legitimate and should be built. It should be built mostly because what we've got right now just isn't working, not by a long shot. the border patrol working now is almost completely useless (just ask a beleaguered patrol officer) while still being expensive, border-crossers are constantly dying in agonizing ways while trying to sneak across (or else being bilked for their life savings in the process), and gun-waving, gearhead crackpots like the minutemen are celebrated on television for doing nothing at all except waving guns and buying expensive gear. I have to think the wall would alleviate a lot of this, although I admit I don't know.

HOWEVER, the wall should never be a thing we're proud of and high-five over! It should be shameful, an emblem of failure just like the Berlin Wall. Both Americans and Mexicans should look upon it as a humiliating blight. And THEN we as Americans should be activated to work toward a situation in which the wall would be unnecessary.

This doesn't mean militarily occupying Mexico, but it does mean bringing a lot of diplomatic pressure to bear so that Mexico is more likely to reform and advance to become such a nation that people would no longer want to leave it droves. This means a constant, steady program of carrots and sticks, real money to be given to or denied the Mexican government, regular trips south by the Secretary of State, the American ambassador to Mexico becoming a household name.

There was a time when it looked like this might happen (whatever ever we can say about Dubya, he's very progressive and compassionate in his views on illegal immigration, and would probably out-rhetoric all of us in disagreeing with the Reichmarshal in this particular issue), but then 9/11 happened and Vicente Fox vanished into the sunset.

I'm not Pollyanna-ish about the odds of this working, and there being some jubilant day in my lifetime when the wall could come tumbling down because Mexico was as financially secure as Canada. But it's what we should try for anyway. Certainly we should have more dealings with our (one of only two) direct neighbor than a country in fucking Mesopotamia.

Kevin Caron said...

It has always seemed to me that Bush's compassion on the subject is largely due to his support for cheap labor. Which brings us to a rather salient point in all of this that has gone undiscussed - what of the Americans hiring the illegal immigrants? After all, we'd have next to no border-crossers if there weren't plenty jobs eagerly awaiting them.

To me, a huge part of the solution to this problem lies in cracking down on those who knowingly employ illegals (and cracking down hard), and creating some kind of system that makes it much easier to detect fake Social Security numbers/identification, for those who are actually trying to hire on the up-and-up (and to take away an excuse for employers pretending to try).