August 21st, 2006


Lileks Watch, Day 8051

Jimbo read about a play currently showing at Scotland's Fringe Festival. (He calls it an "off-Broadway" show because that makes it sound more menacing to our American culture than a "playing at at a small arts festival in a completely different country thousands of miles away".) It's about Walt Disney and the commie witch hunts. Can James Lileks possibly spout off for pages about a play neither he or anyone he knows will ever see? YOU BET! Let's watch.

It's just interesting how Westerners think that that Red Scare was a historical event of such towering proportions it trumps the tales of the Soviet Union in the same period.

Well, Jim:

A) The Red Scare happened in America instead of Russia. Since Americans are Americans instead of Russians, things that happened in America probably are more interesting and important to them than things that happened in Russia. To give you a counter-example, Russians probably think that the Russian Revolution was a more important event than the Emancipation Proclamation.

B) Many people, unlike yourself, are able to distinguish between two different events. I, for example, am perfectly capable of finding the communist witch hunts deplorable, and yet still thinking Stalin was an asshole.

C) At any rate, the play, as described, sounds like a comedy, which would make sense given that it is playing at the Fringe Festival. The Stalinist purges are perhaps not such a ripe vein for comedy.

D) And as I am getting really, really sick of saying, the reason the communist witch hunts were worse for us than the crimes of Soviet Russia is because we aren't Soviet Russia. Russia was a totalitarian dictatorship; no one expected them to have a sterling civil rights record. America, on the other hand, is supposed to be the land of freedom and opportunity and liberty and justice and all that shit, so when we ruin peoples' careers for their alleged political affiliations, that's worse than when the Russians do it, because we're the ones claiming to be the good guys.

US version: communist sympathizers frozen out of screenwriting jobs, justly or unjustly. USSR version: actual communists killed in ghastly numbers by a parody of a legal system underwritten by brute force and an industrialized penal system built on slave labor. Why is the latter ignored, and the former celebrated?

"Version"! Because, you see, the Stalinist purges were just the Russian "version" of the Red Scare. Plus, nice insertion of the "justly or unjustly", there, just to plant the tiniest seed of doubt that all the people whose lives were ruined in the '50s might have had it coming. And, well, I don't mean to put too fine a point on it, but who exactly is ignoring the crimes of Soviet Russia? The Edinburgh Fringe Festival? Because I dunno how to break this to Jim, but they're not really representative of the West as a whole. Hence the name "Fringe".

Apparently the Scots are keen to share our national Red-Scare shame; hence the glowing reviews.

Or, you know, maybe it's a good play.

it’s about brave young idealists working for Walt Disney, who, as we know, was an FBI agent and rabid anti-Semite. Hence those famous cartoons “Pinocchio the Jew,” “Snow Aryan and the Seven Undermenschen,” and all those pro-Allied cartoons. Why did Donald make fun of Hitler? Because he wasn’t getting the job done fast enough, that’s why. For a notorious Jew-hater, Walt did a remarkable job of keeping it out of his work; after all, the point of Dumbo isn’t the need to sterilize the defective elephant.

Hey, the man made anti-Nazi cartoons! After several years of being a rabid isolationist! That more than makes up for his fanatical anti-communism and hostility to organized labor. Besides, who says he hated Jews? Just a few dozen disgruntled employees, that's all! And a handful of people who saw him go to American Nazi Party meetings with his lawyer!

There’s a clinical psychological term for all this, and it’s “Pissed at Daddy.” It made me think of the perpetual adolescent strain in post-WW2 culture. Before the 50s, when there were actual problems like an interminable Depression and Nazis, adolescents were mostly unseen in the culture.

Yeah, you bet! America hardly knew young people existed prior to 1946. And besides, the spoiled post-war kids, they didn't have any problems! Like, say, a doomed war in southeast Asia, or the constant threat of nuclear annihilation, or racism, or sexism, or homophobia! HA HA HA little brats!

Please don't tell me they were alienated by the threat of nuclear war. So was my generation. We reacted with Disco and "Supertrain."

Well, I guess he, uh, he showed I guess?

Anyway, Jimbo then goes on to attack an Onion reviewer -- in fact, the inimitable Noel Murray -- for daring to review Putney Swope. This inspires Lileks to paroxysms of hippie-hating. He starts foaming at the mouth at the dirty hippie bitches who didn't realize that the squares were much happier than they could ever be. And that we didn't need some dumb hipsters telling us that advertising was a sham, because Mick Jagger already did that, and since the producers of Putney Swope weren't shot at dawn behind the chemical sheds they can't possibly have had anything dangerous to say and YAWN YOU'RE BORING ME WE ALL KNOW THAT MASS CULTURE IS SQUARE, so SHUT UP HIPPIES. I often worry that I hate hippies to an irrational degree, but then along comes Jim, a pencil between his teeth to keep from biting through his tongue, and says:

It’s possible the squares didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about Madison Avenue and its lies, man, its Santy-Claus lies, because it wasn’t exactly a thunderous revelation. It’s possible the squares were hip before the hipsters invented the squares.

SEE! It's hip to be square! Take your daddy-hating counterculture and GO AWAY, you are not needed here, everything is fine.

But back to the brave daring Anti-Disney play. Wouldn’t be interesting to see a play about actual contemporary anti-Semites whose power extends beyond the confines of an animation studio?

Like, uh...? Does he mean Iran? Or Idaho? I dunno, I guess that would be interesting. But would it then be even MORE interesting to see a play about the mass death of Iraqis, since they're suffering more than Jews right now? I BET NOT!

But you’re far more likely to see a play about the sex-doll origins of Barbie, for example. Why? Because it would shock town squares to learn that the doll with the tiny waist, long legs and hella-portion hooters might have something to do with sex.

Or maybe because that play would be funny! At the Fringe Festival.