Wednesday, September 03, 2014
Sesame Street now not suitable for children
Thrillingly, the early episodes of Sesame Street have just been released on DVD, but be warned - those shows are dangerous! Slapped across the front of the case is the message, "These early Sesame Street episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today's preschool child." And looking at the wobbly sets and be-stringed puppets, they probably are better suited to sentimental adults than kids raised on Pixar. But this sticker is an expression of concern.
It's not the psychedelic nature of the programme in its 70s incarnation that worries, but the behaviour it might encourage. Children dancing in the street! Grown men reading storybooks to kids - for no apparent reason!
Cookie Monster is the number one problem, not because he is a monster, but because he eats cookies (encourages obesity), and when his addiction takes a special stranglehold, the plate (might hurt). His alter ego, Alistair Cookie, used to smoke a pipe before eating it, which, Sesame Street producer Carol-Lynn Parente explained to the New York Times, "modelled the wrong behaviour", and so Alistair was, tragically, dropped, and he now probably munches down on pipes in bitterness in illegal pipe dens.
The clearly depressed Oscar the Grouch is another problem: "We might not be able to create a character like Oscar today," said Parente, which is possibly one of the most depressing sentences I have read in my life.
For those of us reared on Sesame Street, the degree to which the show is embedded in our psyche is hard to overstate. My favourite segment was the 1979 one when the Muppet band the Beetles, suitably mop-topped, if a little fuzzier of face than the originals, sang their poignant ballad Letter B (sample lyric: "When I find I can't remember/What comes after A and before C/ My mother always whispers, 'Letter B'," and yes, I am quoting from memory). But 30 years on, the perils here are overwhelming: their hair is in their eyes! They're playing electrical instruments! And, my God, one is playing the drums without any protective clothing! Frankly, it's astonishing I managed to grow up unscathed.
In Maryland, a Soviet-Style Punishment for a Novelist
A 23-year-old teacher at a Cambridge, Md. middle school has been placed on leave and—in the words of a local news report—"taken in for an emergency medical evaluation" for publishing, under a pseudonym, a novel about a school shooting. The novelist, Patrick McLaw, an eighth-grade language-arts teacher at the Mace's Lane Middle School, was placed on leave by the Dorchester County Board of Education, and is being investigated by the Dorchester County Sheriff's Office, according to news reports from Maryland's Eastern Shore. The novel, by the way, is set 900 years in the future.
Here is part of a breathless, law enforcement-friendly report from WBOC, which describes itself as "Delmarva's News Leader":
He's a man with many names, and the books he has written have raised the concerns of the Dorchester County Board of Education and the Dorchester County Sheriff's Office.
Early last week the school board was alerted that one of its eighth grade language arts teachers at Mace's Lane Middle School had several aliases. Police said that under those names, he wrote two fictional books about the largest school shooting in the country's history set in the future. Now, Patrick McLaw is placed on leave.
Dr. K.S. Voltaer is better known by some in Dorchester County as Patrick McLaw, or even Patrick Beale. Not only was he a teacher at Mace's Lane Middle School in Cambridge, but according to Dorchester Sheriff James Phillips, McLaw is also the author of two books: "The Insurrectionist" and its sequel, "Lillith's Heir."
Those books are what caught the attention of police and school board officials in Dorchester County. "The Insurrectionist" is about two school shootings set in the future, the largest in the country's history.
Phillips said McLaw was taken in for an emergency medical evaluation. The sheriff would not disclose where McLaw is now, but he did say that he is not on the Eastern Shore. The same day that McLaw was taken in for an evaluation, police swept Mace's Lane Middle School for bombs and guns, coming up empty.
Imagine that—a novelist who didn't store bombs and guns at the school at which he taught. How improbable! Especially considering that he uses an "alias," which is apparently the law-enforcement term for "nom de plume." (Here is the Amazon page for The Insurrectionist, by the way. Please note that the book was published in 2011, before McLaw was hired.)
According to an equally credulous and breathless report in the Star-Democrat, which is published in Easton, Md., the combined efforts of multiple law-enforcement agencies have made area children safe from fiction. Sheriff Phillips told the newspaper that, in addition to a K-9 sweep of the school (!), investigators also raided McLaw's home. "The residence of the teacher in Wicomico County was searched by personnel,” Phillips said, with no weapons found. “A further check of Maryland State Police databases also proved to be negative as to any weapons registered to him. McLaw was suspended by the Dorchester County Board of Education pending an investigation and is no longer in the area. He is currently at a location known to law enforcement and does not currently have the ability to travel anywhere.”
I've tried to reach the sheriff, so far unsuccessfully, to learn whether McLaw's "inability to travel anywhere" means that he is under arrest. It is somewhat amazing that local news reports on this case don't make clear whether McLaw is under arrest, and if so, on what charge. It is equally astonishing that the reporters on this story don't seem to have used the words "First Amendment" in their questioning of law-enforcement officials, and also astonishing they don't question the Soviet-sounding practice of ordering an apparently sane person who has been deemed unacceptable by state authorities to undergo a psychological evaluation.
It would be useful to know if McLaw is under investigation for behavior other than writing two novels—and perhaps he will be shown to be a miscreant of some sort—but so far, there is no indication that he is guilty of anything other than having an imagination, although on Maryland's Eastern Shore, as news reports make clear, his imagination is considered an active threat.
Dorchester County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Henry Wagner told WBO that police will be present at the middle school "for as long as we deem it necessary," and the sheriff said that law-enforcement officials across the Delmarva peninsula have been given McLaw's photo in case he shows up in their jurisdictions—though again, it is not clear if he is, in fact, in police custody at the moment.
If law-enforcement authorities in Dorchester County have additional information that implicates McLaw in a crime, or in the planning of a crime, it is imperative that they release it immediately. As it stands now, they appear to be violating the constitutional rights of a citizen, and also, by the way, teaching the children of their county something awful about the power of fear over reason.
The Great Resurgence of Academic Art
Though I attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna for nearly six years, I didn't want their degree. When I was enrolled, back in the early 80s, you graduated with a piece of paper that conferred upon you the title of 'Akademische Maler' or Academic Painter. In working towards my earlier 1977 Bachelor's degree in the States, every art history course, and most of the studio painting courses, agreed that Academic painting was the worst crime against art ever committed. In my sophomore year at a small Midwestern liberal arts university this manifested itself in vandalism against the 19th century academic paintings that had the bad luck to hang in the same auditorium where art history lectures were delivered. A large Bouguereau painting received a dozen puncture wounds from the pens and pencils of the righteous. By the time I got to Vienna the last thing I wanted to be was an Academic Painter.
At the time the term Academic Art referred to those classically trained artists of the 19th century who had learned their craft in academies, came up through the rigors of proscribed teaching methods, and created content to fit the tastes of the ever-widening bourgeoisie. In my art history classes it was the French version that came in for the strongest criticism, with painters like William-Adolphe Bouguereau held up as the decadent boogieman that Impressionism, and then Modernism, rebelled against. When Pablo Picasso painted his great "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" the purge of the former century's academic decadence was complete. That was 1907.
The decadence of today's art world makes the excesses of the 19th century seem quaint by comparison. Even art critics who helped to build the current edifice are appalled by dealers, billionaires and auction houses who manipulate the system, and by the the shallow, slick work that is passed off as the best that contemporary culture has to offer. Museums, galleries and art critics have all been complicit in creating a contemporary art scene that expects minimal creative effort from its artists and delivers little of value to society at large. With none of the rigor of 19th century training, university art departments and art schools roll out thousands of wannabe artists annually in what must be one of the greatest educational scams ever perpetrated. At least the 19th century Beaux Arts painters were trained to make a living of it.
The school system that births the Academic Art of today is the end product of the age old desire of artists to be more than artisans. Da Vinci, Poussin, Watteau, et al, shared a desire to elevate the mind above the hand, and to move up the social ladder as intellect equated with nobility, manual labor with the masses. The apotheosis of this tendency has come in the last decades as academia has removed skill of any kind as a quality necessary in the creation of art. As art has moved from being an organic function of society and into the hallowed halls of academia, it has shifted from being something that artists did to bring meaning to their communities, into self-reflective gestures aimed at a highly-specialized intellectual elite. In the process art has lost its relevance to the society from which it springs.
The push in university departments to make art into a profession similar to those you'll find in the sciences, medicine or law has resulted in a tremendous glut of academic artists with scant venues to show their work, and an almost complete lack of career opportunities. Since the 1950s MFA programs have proliferated like mold on a rotting orange. Those with MFAs confer more MFAs, operating from secure professorships that enable the production of a purely academic art of interest only to other academics. They train their students to make the same kind of art, but in this over-saturated employment arena they aren't going to find the same cushy tenure positions occupied by their mentors, positions that allow for an academic style free of the need for sales. A small handful of well-connected schools, with powerful faculty, can choose a tiny number of their favorite students and propel them into the art market, but what about the other 250 MFA programs across the country? What happens to the thousands of newly minted MFA grads they churn out each year?
The educational system that spawns this surfeit is an entrenched and potent force. Who decides which academic artists are worthy of attention? Others with similar academic degrees. The gates to academic and artworld success are controlled by those educated through the same process, indoctrinated by the same ideologies, instilled with the same ideas about what art is or isn't. Academic Art, as practiced in western culture, has now colonized the entire world. Cultures that once had vibrant, homegrown arts communities connected to their ethnic populations, now produce the art of the academies. From New York to Paris, from Istanbul to Dubai, from Tehran to Mumbai, from Moscow to Shanghai, all the art looks like it came out of the same MFA program. It is all academic.
Why Jews are worried
AN old Jewish joke goes like this: “What’s the definition of a Jewish telegram? ‘Start worrying. Details to follow.’ ”
I am often asked by fellow Jews about contemporary manifestations of anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe. “Is this just like 1939? Are we on the cusp of another Holocaust?” Until now, my answer has been an unequivocal “no.” I have criticized community leaders who, either out of genuine concern or to advance their own purposes, use Holocaust analogies to describe contemporary conditions. These claims are ahistorical. They overstate what is going on now and completely understate the situation in 1939.
The differences between then and now are legion. When there is an outbreak of anti-Semitism today, officials condemn it. This is light-years away from the 1930s and 1940s, when governments were not only silent but complicit. Memory also distinguishes the present from previous events. Now, in contrast to the 1930s, we know matters can escalate. Jews today are resolute in their determination: “Never again.”
And despite all this I wonder if I am too sanguine. Last month, pro-Gaza protesters on Kurfürstendamm, the legendary avenue in Berlin, chanted, “Jews, Jews, cowardly swine.” Demonstrators in Dortmund and Frankfurt chanted, “Hamas, Hamas; Jews to the gas!” And a pro-Hamas marcher in Berlin broke away from the crowd and assaulted an older man who was quietly standing on a corner holding an Israeli flag.
On the eve of Bastille Day, a group of Parisian Jews were trapped in a synagogue by pro-Palestinian rioters and had to be rescued by the police. A few weeks ago signs were posted in Rome urging a boycott of 50 Jewish-owned businesses. In central London last week, anti-Israel protesters targeted a Sainsbury’s grocery, and the manager reflexively pulled kosher products off the shelves. (The supermarket chain later apologized.)
It would be simple to link all this outrage to events in Gaza. But this trend has been evident for a while. In March 2012, four people were killed at a Jewish day school in Toulouse, France. (Last month, a Jewish community center there was firebombed.) In December 2012, Israeli officials warned Jewish men who wanted to visit synagogues in Denmark not to don their skullcaps until they were inside the building. It is increasingly common for Jewish tourists in Western Europe to avoid carrying anything that might distinguish them as such. A shooting at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May, a month before the latest Gaza conflict began, killed four people.
I am unpersuaded by those who try to dismiss what is happening as “just rhetoric.” It is language, after all, that’s at the heart of the ubiquitous slippage from anger at Israeli military action to hatred of Jews.
Nor am I comforted by the explanation that these actions are being taken by “disgruntled Muslim youth.” (By one estimate, 95 percent of anti-Semitic actions in France are committed by youths of Arab or African descent.) Many of these Muslims were born in Europe, and many of those who weren’t are the parents of a new generation of Europeans.
It’s true that this is not the anti-Semitism of the 1930s, which came from the right and was rooted in longstanding Christian views that demonized the Jews. Traditionally, Islam did not treat Jews this way. But in the past century a distinct strain of Muslim anti-Semitism has emerged. Built on a foundation of antipathy toward non-Muslims, it mixes Christian anti-Semitism — imported to the Middle East by European missionaries — and a more leftist, secular form of anti-Semitism. It is evident in political cartoons, editorials, television shows and newspaper articles.
Those of us who are of good will and not antisemites would find it a lot easier to speak up and demonstrate against the fringe of Jew haters...
The Hamas charter is an example. It contains references to “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a notorious forgery created by Russian czarist police officers in 1903 and later used as Nazi propaganda. The charter accuses Jews of relying on secret societies to foment global economic and political disasters. It calls on adherents to prepare for “the next round with the Jews, the merchants of war.”
The rationales — “it’s just rhetoric,” “it’s just Muslims” — bother me almost as much as the outrages. Instead of explaining away these actions, cultural, religious and academic leaders in all the countries where these events have occurred should be shaken to the core, not just about the safety of their Jewish neighbors, but about the future of the seemingly liberal, enlightened societies they belong to. Yet when a Hamas spokesman recently stood by his statement that Jews used the blood of non-Jewish children for their matzos — one of the oldest anti-Semitic canards around — European elites were largely silent.
Seventy years after the Holocaust, many Jews in Europe no longer feel safe. Hiring an armed guard to protect people coming for weekly prayer is not the action of a secure people. In too many cities worldwide, directions to the local synagogue conclude with, “You will recognize it by the police car in front of the building.” France has seen a sharp rise in the number of Jews who have decided to emigrate (though the figures are still fairly small).
The telegram has arrived. Jews are worrying. It is time for those who value a free, democratic, open, multicultural and enlightened society to do so, too. This is not another Holocaust, but it’s bad enough.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.