Wednesday, April 04, 2007
In the Penny Press! Three Coins in a Fountain!
Three points of interest in last week's New Yorker, each more disturbing than the last.
The first up is David Denby, the reliably schoolmarmish maiden aunt of movie-reviewing. In the issue in question, he reviews 'Shooter' and '300' - and oh, he isn't happy about either. Like every other reviewer in the country, he mysteriously, inexplicably, unaccountably refuses to call Mark Wahlberg a BAD ACTOR. Denby goes only so far as to say "Wahlberg has an unpretentious air about him," which is similar to all the other softpedalled evasions various critics have been using. The origin of this is not far to seek: Wahlberg got an Oscar nomination for 'The Departed.' It wasn't in any way conceivable on the face of the planet a SENSIBLE nomination - the so-called performance was cussing only - but it instills FEAR in the trembling hearts of professional movie reviewers, an inherently cowardly lot (with one or two notable exceptions, as the readers of this blog well know). That nomination means the utterly talentless Wahlberg will be treated to nonsense phrases like 'has an unpretentious air about him' for at least a few more crappy movies, instead of anybody just saying he can't act worth a crap.
But as bad as that-all is, Denby's ultimate reaction to 'Shooter' and '300' is even worse. He lowers his granny glasses down to the tip of his nose and pronounces that these two movies together "feel like the products of a culture slowly and painfully going mad."
Geez. Go to bed, Aunt Bea. They're only movies.
More disturbing was Jane Kramer's piece about the relationship between the forces of radical Islam and those of the Vatican, in the person of the current Pope, the Nazi Benedict XVI. Kramer tries her level best to portray things in a calm, reasonable light, but it completely doesn't work.
Try as she might to paint a veneer of civility over everything, Kramer can't really disguise from her readers the plain fact that the great religion of Islam is currently being spearheaded - and gaining its characterization in the West - by a narrow cadre of reactionary fanatics intent on violence and radicalism ... and that the great religion of Roman Catholicism is currently being spearheaded - and gaining its characterization in the Middle East - by a narrow cadre of reactionary fanatics intent on wealth and insularity. Not since the Battle of Lepanto have the two religions been in a worse position to talk to each other.
The blame is about equal, but it need not have been, if another man sat on the throne of St. Peter. The former Cardinal Ratzinger, in his brief time in charge at the Vatican, has proven even less interested in the daily lives of ordinary Catholics than his predecessor - which, during his predecessor's long and oblivious life hardly seemed possible.
But the problem is deeper than the fact that Ratzinger clearly prefers the palaces-and-parades style of Catholicism of earlier centuries. Nazis share a particular mindset that's disasterous in the present crisis: they not only aren't willing to entertain the viewpoints of others, they regard the EXISTENCE of viewpoints different from their own with a loudly snickering contempt. The Nazi Pope Benedict XVI is no different in this regard - at the exact moment when all men of influence on both sides of the question should be striving to develope some kind of dialogue, both side are afflicted with leaders constitutionally incapable of doing so.
In a perfect world, Ratzinger would be sitting in a Swiss jail for his orchestration of the murder of Pope John Paul I. Alas, this isn't a perfect world. One almost envies the Buddhists.
But the most disturbing thing in this issue of the New Yorker wasn't an article at all but a picture accompanying an article. The piece is a profile of British chef and all around lout Gordon Ramsay, about what an ogre he is to his loyal staff, how gratuitously vicious he is to his loyal staff, etc.
You're supposed to come away hating Ramsay, a petty tyrant made possible only in the ridiculous micro-culture of haute cuisine. He's a blip (that is almost certainly the ultimate source of his much-vaunted all-purpose rage) and of no consequence whatsoever, so that's not the disturbing part.
No, the disturbing part is the accompanying photo of Ramsay. He's standing against the grey steel backdrop of a restaurant's kitchen, and he's holding a little lamb up to his chest. The lamb is alive and looking in the direction of the camera, and the composition of the piece is so elegant and strong (it's by the always-reliable Jillian Edelstein) that you're a minute before you realize that you're not looking at a cuddly picture - Ramsay is holding up a MENU ITEM.
It's a quietly staggering image, not least because of the horrible portrait of the human in the frame. Most of you will never have spent any quality time with a lamb, so you'll be unaware of their nature. If so, allow us to confirm what your own eyes can tell you: they're open-hearted and goofy and entirely GOOD. They lose some of the goofiness when they grow up into sheep, but they still stay entirely good.
In that photo, Gordon Ramsay is holding up the best invitation to vegetarianism imaginable. Because it's not just the ogre Ramsay - it's every three-star restaurant, it's every no-star restaurant, it's every snack-shack and kiosk and McFranchise from one end of the world to the other. That lamb's innocent, goofy face - the face of a PERSON, someone markedly different from the other lambs with whom she was born -(and, needless to say, someone very different from Ramsay) represents the right way, and Gordon Ramsay with his puffy carnivore's face represents the wrong way.
Here in America, at least on the two coasts, the choice is always there and always easy: don't be Gordon Ramsay. Eat no meat harvested from innocent, loving beings, eat no bloodkill. You can go the whole length on your own if you so desire - you can disavow everything that isn't strictly vegetable and leave it at that - but at the very least, you can - we all can, no matter how enamored we've been in time of bacon, that sacred provender of the gods themselves - skip all bloodkill, regardless of how we might once have loved such things. Let that poor doomed lamb, not the Gordon Ramsay inside, have the final say.