(April 23, 2007)
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Ah those cable TV channels! Charles Marowitz's Schizoid Comedy & Stephen Colbert
I ran across your site while reading politicaltheory.com. I have one nitpick regarding this quote,
Stephen Colbert, the Absolute Monarch of The Colbert Report on MSNBC, falls solidly into this second category.Stephen works for Comedy Central, not MSNBC.
Thanks for your attention
Eureka, California, USA - April 10, 2007
The Lure of Optimism: Gilles d'Aymery's Questioning Forty Years Of Optimism
To the Editor:
I wouldn't worry about Swans being called "too pessimistic" or not sufficiently "class conscious." In fact it would be hard to be the latter without being the former. Fortunately, every writer in Swans doesn't follow a standard line, and if you look at the entire output, you'll find equal amounts of class-consciousness, class-indifference, informed anger, peevishness, conservative wistfulness, and utopianism.
Pessimism has an honorable history in the U.S. and optimism has given us some of our worst political periods, and could even be called an American disease. I agree it's a false opposition, and it would be better to talk about "constructive anger" versus "self-indulgent whining."
The main reason for critical journals like Swans (whether constructive or self-indulgent), is the popularity of political idiots like Thomas Friedman, and the inability of politicians and the media to see beyond the shadow play of state propaganda. Talking about empire, imminent bankruptcy, widening income inequality, etc., however repetitive and seemingly futile, is like talking about global warming. You can't prove it exactly and you dont know when it will come about, but someone needs to be shouting about it.
Would you call Marx an optimist or a pessimist? There were plenty of optimistic socialists in the nineteenth century, but only Marx, with his passionate and furious intellect, made something happen.
Sausalito, California, USA - April 16, 2007
The Don Imus Brouhaha
To the Editor:
Several months ago, Swans offered up a scathing treatment, written by Charles Marowitz, of right-wing media darling Ann Coulter. Marowitz could have written a straightforward critical analysis of her venomous output and its ugly repercussions. But that would have been treating his subject with a seriousness that he probably felt it didn't really warrant. Instead, he opted for a wittier approach, painting her with a broad satirical brush by cleverly imitating the hyperbolic and delusional tone of Coulter's own screeching style of commentary. It was clear from several of the responses that Swans later received regarding the article that many of its readers somehow managed to completely miss this element of parody in Charles's rant. It occurs to me lately, in the wake of the brouhaha raised by the controversial Don Imus broadcast and its subsequent fallout, that once again people are taking a superficial view and missing the essential meaning. I've heard a lot of references to censorship and the dangers that the proponents of political correctness pose to the concept of free speech. These arguments are being trotted out as though these issues were in some way applicable to the Imus case. They're really not. I've heard other people struggling to reconcile the pure spirit of generosity to be found in Imus's charitable work building children's hospitals with the meanness and bigotry so often evident in his on-air invective. This murkiness attending an apparent dichotomy of character derives from a perspective that overlooks the crucial reality of who Don Imus actually is.
Imus is a professional entertainer. Whatever he has done on his radio programs has been contrived with the sole objective of maintaining a level of ratings that will be attractive to potential sponsors. In this endeavor, Mr. Imus has found great success with employing a schtick that could be described as "obnoxious, ignorant blowhard." This schtick has also served quite well for a number of other national broadcast personalities, including Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern. But it's only schtick. In real life, Don Imus is probably no more a blowhard than Don Rickles is an insulting boor, Dean Martin a happy drunk, or Elmer Fudd a hapless, bumbling hunter. It's just performance. And this is exactly the context within which we can most accurately understand the meaning of his recent controversy and its subsequent effect on his professional career. As hipster comedian Lenny Bruce ably demonstrated back in the sixties, words and phrases, in and of themselves, do not carry any intrinsic danger and, when isolated from a meaningful context, cannot be the cause of harm or damage. The meaningful context through which words obtain their destructive and hurtful qualities lies both in the underlying intent behind their delivery and, more especially, in the perceptions accompanying their receipt. The danger in serving up the type of schtick favored by Imus and the others is that, all too often, too many of their listeners (fans and detractors alike) lack the intellectual capacity to recognize the invective as performance, failing to adequately distinguish between vacuous entertainment and social relevance. It is the pitfalls inherent in this ambiguity that led the former paying sponsors of Imus's radio show to withdraw their monies in an attempt to distance themselves from the fallout of his remarks. In turn, CBS and MSNBC made a marketing decision based on their own growing perception that the viability and appeal of this style of radio programming has, thankfully and at long last, begun to enter its decline. This decision represents neither censorship nor a caving in to the influences of political correctness. It's just a day's business in the irrelevant world of entertainment.
(As a footnote to these remarks, I would add that the general buffoonery contributed by Bill O' Reilly and Ann Coulter may be regarded as somewhat less innocuous than that of their colleagues, in that they have signed on to and serve a political organization which tries to pass itself off as a legitimate facet of American journalism and is watched daily by millions of people who are clearly unable to discern the enormous absurdity of this lie.)
Rockford, Illinois, USA - April 17, 2007
A Cello in Every House: Isidor Saslav's The Day Of The 'Cello
To the Editor:
I found Isidor Saslav's piece, "The Day of the 'Cello," an utter delight. It was a perfect blend of history, criticism, and academicism -- and sprinkled with nuggets of little-known information that made the world of stringed instruments comes vibrantly alive. Pieces like this, dealing knowledgeably with cultural themes and informing readers on esoteric subjects written in an easy and accessible style is precisely what Swans needs more of: a little string quartet to soften the blaring brass and pounding percussion of ponderous political subject-matter.
I note that Saslav is a member of the Shaw Society, which is curious because, even before discovering the fact, I was thinking how Shavian the style was -- and GBS, as you know, began as a music critic.
Santa Monica, California, USA - April 16, 2007
Tuned-out Liberals: Carol W. Christen's How Did This Happen?
To the Editor:
Yes indeed, how did this happen? I express this as an inhabitant of the planet Earth. Sure, Humans have always had that side to us that has led us to Empires and violent aggression. But now we have to include a corporate component -- big, giant, rich beyond belief, soulless corporations.
Politicians have become corporate lobbyists paid for by the people! Even the war machines are going corporate. President Bush appears to be more concerned about controlling the American people while freeing up corporate abilities to do the same. I am truly wondering in my heart if the United States can hold on to its democracy... Too much money and power; too much control of the media (tax breaks); too many interested interests... Spreading hatred and innuendo so as to put "liberals" in a cage.
I have heard some express that "liberals" should be exterminated. I have read others who claim that "liberals" control the media, classroom, academia, science, etc. Sounds eerily like something fascist or communist totalitarians would express. Maybe these people are closet Mao fans. Almost funny...
Almost as funny as the fact that America was founded on LIBERAL ideas. It is liberal ideas that are incorporated into the Constitution -- "All men are created equal." Sounds down right liberal to me. If I could, though, I would like to change that to "All Humans are born equal." Wonder if that would fly? I bet that this epitome of liberalism, Jesus Christ, would approve...
The important thing to remember is that one has to stay politically active in a grass roots way. I sincerely believe apathy has led us to this epoch. Turns out that Timothy Leary was wrong. Tuning out leads to the kind of world being foisted upon us by some who were more than happy to see liberals "tuning out."
Windsor, Ontario, Canada - April 15, 2007
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