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A Phrase Too Far. . .

Gregg Easterbrook is sorry for what he said. As he says here: "Nothing's worse, as a writer, than so mangling your own use of words that you are heard to have said something radically different than what you wished to express."

He did not exactly mangle his words so as to be incomprehensible, but he reached for an analogy in haste of holy righteous anger that bled too easily into an ugly and unforgivable stereotype. What stoked his ire was Quentin Tarantino's blockbuster, "Kill Bill."

He reacts harshly to the hyper-stylized violence that marks this film, and his previous works. So harshly, the piece reads as a rant rather than an argument. The first half of the post reads as though the most he knows of Hollywood or film styles and storytelling is what he heard from "Focus on the Family." If someone studying film at USC were to try to debate Easterbrook on the merits "Kill Bill", I get the feeling that Easterbrook would be unable to defend his argument against it, and resort to shutting down the discussion, like Bill O'Reilly. Which to me is the most surprising aspect of the piece. Perhaps a calmer, more collected Easterbrook would be able to say how "Kill Bill" is as trite and hackneyed as "Power Rangers."

All I know about Easterbrook is from the articles I read by him. From that, I've gathered he's a smart man with a breadth of interests. (He writes for approximately 15 publications on topics from politics to religion and — until ESPN fired him for this offense — sports. I barely write for this one.) I've liberally quoted from him. That said, this is the first time I've read a piece of his where I could see nothing but blind righteous anger.

Ironically, had he argued his piece better, I probably would have noticed what has given him much long lasting grief, the anti-Semitic analogy. Here it is, reproduced.
Set aside what it says about Hollywood that today even Disney thinks what the public needs is ever-more-graphic depictions of killing the innocent as cool amusement. Disney's CEO, Michael Eisner, is Jewish; the chief of Miramax, Harvey Weinstein, is Jewish. Yes, there are plenty of Christian and other Hollywood executives who worship money above all else, promoting for profit the adulation of violence. Does that make it right for Jewish executives to worship money above all else, by promoting for profit the adulation of violence? Recent European history alone ought to cause Jewish executives to experience second thoughts about glorifying the killing of the helpless as a fun lifestyle choice.

There's so much in here that I have to read it several times. I can see what he was attempting to do, to try to urge more moral minded behavior by an appeal to religion or ethnicity or shared history. Though it is rather obnoxious to use the Holocaust to guilt the victims of that ethnic group as to greenlight better movies, as though there is a moral equivalent. Of course, it is also obnoxious to hold one's religion over his head or to make it a comparative contest over who has a duty to be morally superior. In that vein, Easterbrook took it upon himself to declare two people to be deficient in the practice of their religion by offending his sensibilities. (Assuming they are practicing Jews -- It's a ethnic group as well as a religion.)

Of course, the kicker phrase is probably "There are plenty of Christian and other Hollywood executives who worship money above all else. . . . Does that make it right for Jewish executives to worship money above all else?" That goes deep into the history of persecution and stereotypes that Jews suffered from, which live on to this day with the tinfoil Zionist conspiracists who see Jews controlling the world's banks and media for some nefarious purpose. That's the statement that he probably wishes he never wrote, since even though he tried to turn the stereotype on its head — to accuse the Christians and everyone else of the vice of avarice — it fell back to accusing Jews of doing the thing that other groups have charged against them in justification of discrimination and genocide.

Though the greatest sin Easterbrook makes is to add such irrelevant comments to his gripe against "Kill Bill". His gripe is largely against Tarantino, not Eisner or Weinstein. And even if it was, it was not against their church or their history. His argument stopped being about against the film or against the director, but against the executives and the practice of their faith. For that, I hope he is sorry.

(I note that I hope I don't regret making this post in the future.)