Guest blogging for Glenn this week is law professor and blogger Ann Althouse.
The American Film Institute has manufactured another one of its lists of 100 films that obviously belong in an obvious category. This year's choice of obvious category is "inspiring." The point is not to surprise us or challenge us, but to reinforce what we already know and to upload the conventional wisdom into the mind of the next generation.
The top 10:
- "It's a Wonderful Life"
- "To Kill a Mockingbird"
- "Schindler's List"
- "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"
- "The Grapes of Wrath"
- "Breaking Away"
- "Miracle on 34th Street"
- "Saving Private Ryan"
Of course, everything political is safely embalmed in the past, preferably by Steven Spielberg. An underdog athlete is suitable. And two Christmas movies in the the top 10? "The Passion of the Christ," I note, was considered and rejected. We all know how much religion inspires people, but we want family-Christmas-style religion, not that other kind.
"Inspiring" is a somewhat creative idea for a list, by AFI standards. In the past, they've given us the top 100 based on very standard categories: comedies and love stories. "Inspiring" movies, even more than comedies and love stories, must do something specific to our emotions. But why has the AFI chosen this year to concentrate on the way movies can manipulate us into having feelings of elevated hopefulness?
With the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the war in Iraq and the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the group wanted to examine films that offer hope.
"This was kind of an interesting moment in American history, coming off Sept. 11, being at war, having natural disasters of such tremendous impact. What role do the movies play at times of really emotional turmoil?" said Jean Picker Firstenberg, AFI director. "I think the movies are fundamentally a very inspirational way we communicate, and we thought this was an exciting opportunity to recognize those films."
So we're shaky and wounded and need Hollywood to soothe us and make us feel that life is good and people are worthy? Did you think of September 11th in terms of your own "emotional turmoil" and turn to the movies? Movies aren't a way for us to "communicate." Filmmakers speak to us. That's why we're called the audience. People are talking back to the screen more these days, but in most theaters, that still gets you dirty looks and shushing.
The AFI should compile a list of films about the delusional self-regard of filmmakers.
Guest blogging for Glenn this week is law professor and blogger Ann Althouse.
Loving the large... and also the small
We Americans seem to like oversized, exaggerated characters. Look at our beloved reality TV shows. We adored the twitchy, frenetic Taylor Hicks who won "American Idol" and Sean Yazbeck, the effusive, gesturing Brit who got the job -- and fell conspicuously in love -- on "The Apprentice."
But there's an emerging taste for subtlety. Just as we're starting to crack down on restaurants for those oversized portions we've been wolfing down so much of, we've also embraced a couple of the most low key reality show characters. Look at Harold Dieterle on "Top Chef," beating out the much more colorful Stephen and Tiffani. And look at Chloe Dao on "Project Runway," beating out the demonic Santino. Harold and Chloe were stunningly modest characters, and yet, we figured out how to love them.
In the legal sphere -- where, being a law professor, I try to hang out at least some of the time -- we've still got the highly expressive Antonin Scalia, complete with Italian gesturing, but we've been charmed by the understated new Chief Justice, John Roberts, whose most exaggerated characteristic is his tendency to talk about "humility" a bit too often.
For reading, don't you like those short, punchy blog posts? But if you're willing to sink deeply into a long, long newspaper article, let me point you to this oversized Washington Post piece, about a dancer Alice Alyse, who lost her role in the Broadway show "Movin' Out," she says, because her already ample breasts got larger. She quotes the stage manager: "We hired you at a size C and now you're a [expletive] D!... You need to lose those boobs now!"
Didn't you think we Americans loved large breasts? But, no, not always:
[B]ig breasts cannot truly be said to be a virtue for a dancer, unless her routine includes thigh-high boots and a pole. The Ziegfeldian hourglass shape has flattened out over time. On current stages, in the view of many directors and choreographers, a B cup might be just sexy enough, while a D may be too much. From ballet companies to Broadway, the preferred look is slender, long-stemmed and minimally jiggly. Especially when we're talking about fitting into a group, whether a kick line or the corps de ballet.
Alyse is suing, asking for $100 million. There's that love of the large. We can expect the defendants to prefer something smaller scale, not only in breasts, but in damages.
Can liberals get tough?
It's possible to be a Democrat and still be tough on America's enemies. There was a time, in fact — as illustrated by Humphrey Bogart's remark in Casablanca that he was a card-carrying Democrat — when Democrats were the people that voters looked to for that kind of toughness.
It hasn't been that way since the 1960s, when the New Left crushed the old anti-communist liberal establishment, and when Viet Cong flags became a staple of "anti-war" rallies. But things don't have to stay in a 1960s mold forever. Peter Beinart, editor of The New Republic argues in his new book, The Good Fight: Why Liberals -- and Only Liberals -- Can Win the War On Terror and Make America Great Again, that Democrats need to get over the 1960s and take a tough, 21st Century approach to matters of national security and defense.
Beinart's book is a good effort -- you can hear him expand on his views in this podcast interview, too (direct link here, lo-fi link here, iTunes link here) -- but I have to say I'm skeptical. It seems to me that the Democrats who favor a strong national defense have mostly decamped to the Republican Party already. In fact, much of Beinart's book is devoted to recounting just how that happened, as the old Democratic Party structures were taken over by elites who didn't think much of blue-collar politics. Now, pro-war Democrats like Sen. Joe Lieberman are reviled -- and opposed -- by true-believing Dems. Even Hillary Clinton is getting flak from anti-war types.
So though I'd certainly like to see the Democratic Party move in the direction that Beinart recommends, I don't think it's very likely. That's too bad for the Democrats, and for America.
Hey, maybe they're noticing. Listen to what Google founder Sergey Brin is saying:
Google Inc. co-founder Sergey Brin acknowledged Tuesday the dominant Internet company has compromised its principles by accommodating Chinese censorship demands. He said Google is wrestling to make the deal work before deciding whether to reverse course.
Meeting with reporters near Capitol Hill, Brin said Google had agreed to the censorship demands only after Chinese authorities blocked its service in that country. Google's rivals accommodated the same demands -- which Brin described as "a set of rules that we weren't comfortable with" -- without international criticism, he said.
"We felt that perhaps we could compromise our principles but provide ultimately more information for the Chinese and be a more effective service and perhaps make more of a difference," Brin said.
It's true that Google has gotten more flak than its competitors. But then, its "progressive" image and "don't be evil" slogan are a bit different than, say, Microsoft's public profile. Still it's nice to hear that somebody's noticing the criticism. And it would be great if Google wound up undermining Chinese censorship, instead of assisting it.
Readers on Google's fading star
Yesterdays' post on Google's vulnerability generated a lot of reader e-mail. Some doubted whether Google is really vulnerable to shfiting consumer sentiments. Others wrote to say that they had already switched to other search engines. Here are some examples:
Name: Lucia Hennen
Hometown: Frazier Park, CA
Dear Glenn: I like Google, but use it mostly for my business e-mail address. I would add my dismay that they are censoring conservative news because I happen to be a conservative in my views and while I don't always agree with all the "conservative viewpoint", I thought that we allowed all kinds of viewpoints in the USA. So how can I let Google know about my objection to censorship of any kind?
Glenn writes: That's probably done the trick.
Name: Linda Fox
Hometown: Varnville, SC
I would not have a problem using other search engines, but I have not found one that does as good a job of finding images. I create interactive lessons for my science students, and there is, as far as I have found, no substitute that is as efficient as Google in tracking down pertinent pictures, graphs, and charts.
Glenn writes: I've been experimenting with the Ask.com image search and it seems to work pretty well. Your results may differ, I suppose.
Google is a fad *and* a brand. But they haven't peaked and aren't going anywhere - they've just gotten started. Google is actually very analogous to Microsoft in the late 80's. Faced with an embryonic and highly fragmented industry - personal computing - Microsoft opened up their hardware platform, sought to integrate the most commonly used tools (which evolved into Office), wooed developers by providing API's and platforms for writing integrated code...and then gradually snowballing every new thing that came along into a big glob of Borg-like goodness. Microsoft almost single-handedly created the PC revolution, nearly destroying all their competitors along the way due to their vastly superior vision and delivery. Google is doing exactly the same thing. They've opened their API's, are adding (free) product after product, and are staying in the black along the way. Maybe 1/10th of their offerings will prove useful or have staying power, but those products will shape and define the next 10 or 20 years of human-computer interaction. Sure I could easily type in 'ask.com', but I could easily switch from Coke to Pepsi too...how many people do that?
Glenn writes: I may not be representative, as I prefer RC.
Hometown: San Antonio, TX
In my opinion, Google has over extended itself. I also believe that its stock prices are base on flawed assumptions. (... like too many firms back in like 1999.) Personally, some of its strategic and policy moves have also disheartened me. Very soon, I believe that the word "Googled" will be added to the dictionary. (Googled: "Great start with good intentions, but failed to live up to potential"...or "deceived.")
Hometown: Tampa, FL
It's a fad. They are going down. Dot com is Dot Junk unless you're on the board of directors.
Glenn writes: That's going a bit too far, I think. Dot-coms can be profitable, or not, just like other businesses. As always, it depends on fundamentals, not handwaving.
Name: Leonid Ardov
Yesterday I reset my homepage from Google to Ask. The Memorial Day failure was the last straw.
Name: Matt Redmond
Hometown: Greenwood, MS
I have been usiing Alta Vista for over a month now and I canot tell a difference...except a lack of guilt.
Glenn writes: The Memorial Day thing wasn't really that big a deal, but it seems to have been the last straw for a lot of people. As for the switch to Alta Vista, I think that at one point Google had a commanding technological lead, but I think that search engines have turned into commodity products -- there's not much difference anymore as all the competitors have caught up. Google, of course, has branched out into ads, etc., but I'm not sure how well they can do if their main business stagnates. And, of course, if people don't like them it could hurt their ad business, too.
Has Google peaked?
Google has been a huge deal — its founders have become rich, its name has become a verb, and its influence is international.
Lately, though, I've been wondering if Google has peaked. The reason is that, for lots of different groups of people, Google's reputation as good guys has been stained. And I'm not sure what Google really has to bank on, besides a good reputation.
Google has come under criticism from people on the left — and right — for its cave-in to Chinese demands for censorship. From "don't be evil," Google's motto has seemed to be "don't be evil unless there's a really big market at stake."
They've also come in for criticism from people on the right for alleged censorship in Google News, with charges that Google is purging itself of conservative news sites. And many people complained that Google, which puts up special logos for all sorts of other holidays, didn't do anything to recognize Memorial Day.
That last point seems minor, but for some people it seems to have been the last straw. And it made me wonder if Google's position isn't rather vulnerable. People like Google and use it, but its competition — sites like Ask.com, Dogpile.com, and Clusty.com — is just a mouseclick away. Ask.com even has a pretty good substitute for Google News.
Lots of people don't like Microsoft — I like 'em fine, but then, I get a check from them every month — but if you want to switch from Microsoft to OSX or Linux you need a bunch of new software, and maybe a new computer. To switch from Google to Ask, you just type different letters (and fewer!).
Of course, it's not just search engines. Jeff Jarvis notes that Google's ad business isn't doing especially well, and says that the reason is trust. So what, exactly, does Google have that will protect it from a sudden shift in consumer sentiments? Is it a brand, or a fad?
The weakness of Mubarak
Time Magazine reports on why Egypt is cracking down on bloggers. The answer is fear -- and the lack thereof:
Three days before he was arrested at an anti-regime protest in downtown Cairo, award-winning Egyptian blogger Alaa Abdel Fatah told TIME he knew he might pay a price for speaking out, but said he had developed a taste for freedom of speech and would not give up so easily.
"For the core group of activists, which is growing, there is absolutely no fear anymore," said the 24-year-old activist. "I mean, there is of course fear when the moment happens, but its not the fear that makes you stay home — you go back again." Almost a month later, Abdel Fatah is still in jail — and still blogging. "Today it hit me, I am really in prison," he wrote in a note smuggled out of jail and posted by his wife on the couple's blog," Manal and Alaa's Bit Bucket." "I'm not sure how I feel."
The Mubarak regime wants to be sure people are afraid, up-front where it does some good, to challenge his rule. Writing in the Washington Post, Jefferson Morley observes: "The Bush administration's campaign for democracy in the Arab world is facing its toughest test yet in Egypt."
That's right. I understand that the Bush Administration has its hands full with Iraq and, especially, Iran. But Mubarak isn't really our friend, and he's certainly no friend to democracy. His rule is unlikely to last -- this crackdown is a sign of his regime's weakness, not strength -- and we'd be better off if the people who overthrow him remember us as friends of freedom, not friends of Mubarak's thuggish kleptocracy.
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