Commentary Magazine


Topic: Academy Awards

David Denby’s Sneering Ignorance

In his piece about the Academy Awards, the New Yorker’s David Denby wrote this:

I can’t give up my feeling that people are approving of their own tears when they respond to “Les Misérables.” After all, Michael Gerson, George Bush’s principal speechwriter, wrote an entire column in the Washington Post about how much he cried at “Les Mis.” But how much did the Bush Administration do for the downtrodden? I can’t think of a better definition of sentimentality—an emotion disconnected from what one actually is and does—than effusions like Gerson’s.

This is a sneering ignorance. Even a liberal film critic should be familiar with President Bush’s 2003 announcement of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the largest program in history to fight a single disease. The plan included a massive increase in funding–$15 billion over five years–to promote prevention, treatment, and compassionate care, mainly in Africa. Many were skeptical that large-scale AIDS treatment was even possible in the developing world. But studies show that PEPFAR is estimated to have saved 1.2 million lives between 2003-2007. The most recent data show that the number of AIDS-related deaths in sub-Saharan Africa has fallen by about a third. 

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In his piece about the Academy Awards, the New Yorker’s David Denby wrote this:

I can’t give up my feeling that people are approving of their own tears when they respond to “Les Misérables.” After all, Michael Gerson, George Bush’s principal speechwriter, wrote an entire column in the Washington Post about how much he cried at “Les Mis.” But how much did the Bush Administration do for the downtrodden? I can’t think of a better definition of sentimentality—an emotion disconnected from what one actually is and does—than effusions like Gerson’s.

This is a sneering ignorance. Even a liberal film critic should be familiar with President Bush’s 2003 announcement of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the largest program in history to fight a single disease. The plan included a massive increase in funding–$15 billion over five years–to promote prevention, treatment, and compassionate care, mainly in Africa. Many were skeptical that large-scale AIDS treatment was even possible in the developing world. But studies show that PEPFAR is estimated to have saved 1.2 million lives between 2003-2007. The most recent data show that the number of AIDS-related deaths in sub-Saharan Africa has fallen by about a third. 

“The substantial life expectancy afforded by widespread access to cART [combination antiretroviral therapy] underscores the fact that HIV diagnosis and treatment in resource-limited settings should no longer be considered a death sentence,” according to Dr. Edward Mills, who helped oversee a large-scale analysis of life expectancy outcomes in Africa for HIV patients. “Instead, HIV-infected people should plan and prepare for a long and fulfilling life.”

“PEPFAR is changing the course of the AIDS epidemic,” according to Dr. Peter Piot, former executive director of the Joint United Nations Programm on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief was among George W. Bush’s finest hours–and for the record, Michael Gerson was one of the main advocates for PEPFAR in the Bush White House.

It takes a particularly confused and cynical individual to dismiss as “sentimentality” one of the most humane and effective enterprises in our lifetime. PEPFAR is certainly a more unambiguous success, and has saved many more lives, than the War on Poverty.

I can’t think of a better example of moral idiocy–of words disconnected from what reality actually is and what people have done–than columns like Denby’s. 

He should stick to movie reviews. 

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Israelis Flock to See Iranian Oscar Winner

The Iranian regime’s reaction to the country’s Oscar victory, in which the Iranian film “A Separation” beat out Israeli contender “Footnote” for best foreign-language film, was indeed revealing, as Alana noted. But far more revealing was the fact that Israelis have been flocking to see the Iranian entry. For that one fact constitutes an eloquent rebuttal of all those who seek to paint Israel as being “undemocratic” and “anti-peace.”

Here’s how AP, after noting that “an impressive 30,000 Israeli filmgoers” have seen “A Separation” since it opened a week and a half ago, described the scene in Israel: “Ticket buyers stood in a long line on Sunday night at the Lev Smadar movie theater in Jerusalem. Omer Dilian, manager of the theater’s cafe, said ‘A Separation’ has drawn hundreds of viewers, even on weeknights … All the screenings in Lev theaters were sold out last Friday and Saturday.”

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The Iranian regime’s reaction to the country’s Oscar victory, in which the Iranian film “A Separation” beat out Israeli contender “Footnote” for best foreign-language film, was indeed revealing, as Alana noted. But far more revealing was the fact that Israelis have been flocking to see the Iranian entry. For that one fact constitutes an eloquent rebuttal of all those who seek to paint Israel as being “undemocratic” and “anti-peace.”

Here’s how AP, after noting that “an impressive 30,000 Israeli filmgoers” have seen “A Separation” since it opened a week and a half ago, described the scene in Israel: “Ticket buyers stood in a long line on Sunday night at the Lev Smadar movie theater in Jerusalem. Omer Dilian, manager of the theater’s cafe, said ‘A Separation’ has drawn hundreds of viewers, even on weeknights … All the screenings in Lev theaters were sold out last Friday and Saturday.”

So let’s start with the obvious: “Undemocratic” countries don’t show films produced by their worst enemies in theaters throughout the country; they ban them. You won’t, for instance, be able to see “Footnote” at a movie theater in Tehran. That this even needs saying is a disgrace. But given the frequency with which Israel’s critics have been hurling the “undemocratic” label at it, it’s clear many self-proclaimed Western liberals need a refresher course in the basics of democracy.

What’s equally true, however, is that “anti-peace” regimes generally don’t want their citizens to learn about their neighbors’ culture, for very good reason: If a regime really seeks to prevent peace, dehumanization of the enemy is vital. Thus, it’s important to shield the public from anything that might cause it to view enemy nationals as people more or less like themselves. That’s precisely why, for instance, Israeli books are almost never translated into Arabic, nor are Israeli movies shown almost anywhere in the Arab world.

In contrast, a country that seeks peace is intensely interested in getting to know its neighbors’ human side, because humanization enhances the prospects for peace. That is why, for instance, you can easily find translated Arabic literature in Israel, and it’s also why “A Separation” has been such a hit. It’s not just that it’s an award-winning movie, though that obviously helps. It’s because Israelis, to quote AP again, were intrigued “by the rare glimpse it offered into the living rooms of a country they regard as a threat.”

And indeed, that was evident in the movie-goers’ responses. “You see them driving cars and going to movies and they look exactly like us,” wrote an Israeli reviewer. One audience member told AP “she was struck by Tehran’s modernity, which jarred with the image of black-clad women and religious conservatism that has become iconic of Iran”; another “said she was surprised by the humaneness of the Iranian bureaucrats portrayed in the film.”

So next time anyone you know gets confused abpit whether Israel is really democratic or peace-seeking, I recommend the following simple test: Just ask which country shows its enemies’ films and which doesn’t – and in which country the public flocks to see them.

 

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Iranian Regime Officially Beyond Parody?

Iran declares victory over the criminal Zionist entity…at the Oscars:

Iran trumpeted the Islamic Republic’s first foreign film Oscar win Monday as a triumph over archfoe Israel – even as audiences in Israel packed theaters to watch the movie that beat their country’s entry at the Academy Awards. …

But Iranian state media used the Oscar-winning film to trumpet a success over Israel. The state TV broadcast said the award succeeded in “leaving behind” a film from the “Zionist regime,” the phrase often used in Iran to describe Israel. …

Javad Shamaghdari, head of Iran’s Cinematic Agency, portrayed the Oscar decision as the “beginning of the collapse” of Israeli influence that “beats the drum of war” in the U.S.

Sacha Baron Cohen needs to grab a notepad and take a seat, because Iran just showed him how satire is done.

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Iran declares victory over the criminal Zionist entity…at the Oscars:

Iran trumpeted the Islamic Republic’s first foreign film Oscar win Monday as a triumph over archfoe Israel – even as audiences in Israel packed theaters to watch the movie that beat their country’s entry at the Academy Awards. …

But Iranian state media used the Oscar-winning film to trumpet a success over Israel. The state TV broadcast said the award succeeded in “leaving behind” a film from the “Zionist regime,” the phrase often used in Iran to describe Israel. …

Javad Shamaghdari, head of Iran’s Cinematic Agency, portrayed the Oscar decision as the “beginning of the collapse” of Israeli influence that “beats the drum of war” in the U.S.

Sacha Baron Cohen needs to grab a notepad and take a seat, because Iran just showed him how satire is done.

It’s actually pretty rare for the regime to comment on these types of entertainment awards. While the Associated Press speculates this could be a sign Tehran is easing its hardline stance on the movie industry, it probably has more to do with the regime’s unrestrained animosity toward Israel. Note that any perceived success vis-à-vis the Jewish state (even an Oscar win) is framed in nationalistic and moral terms by the regime: the beating drums of war are slowing because an Iranian filmmaker won the foreign language award over a handful of other countries, including Israel. And this isn’t even portrayed as a sign of artistic achievement on the Iranian movie industry’s part, but as a sign of Israel’s “collapse.”  That’s some deep psychological stuff right there.

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