September 13, 2003


AUDIO: Commentary: Leni and Eddie (Andrei Codrescu, 9/12/03, NPR: All Things Considered)

Commentator Andrei Codrescu muses on the deaths of two figures of 20th century history who died this week: Leni Riefenstal, the German filmmaker who captured images of Adolf Hitler that shaped the dictator's propaganda image, and Edward Teller, the Hungarian Jew who was considered the father of the H-bomb. Both lived to a ripe old age. They survived, says Andrei, in part because the things they created didn't ruin our lives.

Mr. Codrescu's commentaries are uniformly unlistenable, but he established his notorious reputation as a flaming anus several years ago when he used a Christmas commentary to wax ecstatic about the idea of a Christian Holocaust, NPR apologizes for Codrescu's remark that 'crossed a line of tolerance' (Current, Jan. 15, 1996):
Codrescu's Dec. 19 All Things Considered commentary derided the belief, held by some Christians, that at world's end all those who are "saved" will ascend immediately to Heaven and the rest of the population will suffer Armageddon and wind up in Hell. Reading from a pamphlet he was handed on the street, Codrescu said that believers in the "rapture" predict that more than 4 million people will depart in less than a fifth of a second. He went on to say that "The evaporation of 4 million who believe this crap would leave the world an instantly better place."

"As soon as it aired, we realized it shouldn't have made it to air," says NPR spokesperson Kathy Scott. "We started working on an apology before we got any reaction." [...]

The apology expressed regrets for the "vulgar term" Codrescu used and his statement that the world would be better off without the believers. "Those remarks offended listeners and crossed a line of taste and tolerance that we should have defended with greater vigilance," NPR said. "We spoke with Andrei who told us he would like to apologize for what--with hindsight--he regards as an inappropriate attempt at humor. It's one he regrets. And so does NPR."

But Codrescu says he's sorry only for using the word "crap." "I had no idea they were going to apologize on my behalf. They said some staff members were upset and I said I was sorry I had upset them and didn't intend to."

Codrescu says he's mad at NPR, but will probably continue doing pieces. "It's a natural reaction to try and come back and say something even more offensive," he says, "but I don't know ... ."

It's too bad he wasn't mad enough to stop, because his commentary yesterday was even more despicable. It was one thing to engage in hate speech about a group of people, quite another to, as he did, refer to Edward Teller, a genuine American patriot, as "evil", to compare him to Leni Riefenstal, wo served Hitler, and to conclude by implying that Mr. Teller is now in Hell. Honorable people can disagree about Mr. Teller's faith in nuclear weapons as a deterrent, but no one can deny that to the best of his great ability he sought to use his scientific genius to defend freedom against totalitarianism. Equating his life's work with that of Ms Riefenstal, who used her genius to the opposite end, is nothing more than a liberal smear of the most heinous kind.

-Riefenstahl's Art and Atrocity: The director's 'Triumph of the Will' glorified the Nazis, and not even the genius of Luis Buñuel could change that. (Carlos Fuentes, September 12, 2003, LA Times)

The death of German director Leni Riefenstahl on Sept. 9 brings back memories of a story Luis Buñuel told me once.

During World War II, the great Spanish director worked at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. A refugee of the Spanish Civil War, a Franco opponent disillusioned with Hollywood and the impossibility of making personal cinema in California, Buñuel found refuge in the illustrious New York museum.

It was there that he was charged with an impossible mission: Take Riefenstahl's filmed evocation of the Nuremberg rallies, "Triumph of the Will," and turn it from an epic of Nazi exaltation to a weapon in the fight against Nazism.

Buñuel conscientiously went about this task, inspired by his own anti-fascist convictions but also, inevitably, by his respect for the aesthetic quality of Riefenstahl's film.

Once he finished, Buñuel held a private screening for his friends Charlie Chaplin and film director René Clair. Each time Adolf Hitler appeared on screen, Chaplin, Buñuel told me, convulsed with laughter, pointing his index finger at the Führer and exclaiming: "He is imitating me! You see that? He doesn't do anything but imitate me!" Chaplin was referring to his splendid and corrosive parody, "The Great Dictator," in which his Hitler look-alike, re-baptized as Adenoid Hinkel, plays a classic scene in cinematic history, dancing with the globe.

If Chaplin laughed uncontrollably, Clair kept a somber, Gallic silence. As accomplished as Buñuel's version was, Clair couldn't stop worrying about the powerful aesthetic of the film - the way Riefenstahl's montages, her angular takes, her able evocation of the Greco-Roman epic, the cult of the body, its pagan fascination, revolutionized what film could do and defied Buñuel's attempt to turn pro-Hitler images into anti-Hitler propaganda.

Riefenstahl was a Nazi but she was also an artist, and it seemed impossible to untangle the two. Clair suggested that Buñuel's version be shown to the president of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt. The screening took place in the White House and the verdict was forceful: "Do not show this film. Preserve it, but do not show it. If the public sees it, they will be convinced that the Nazis are invincible. It is a film that will demoralize our war effort."

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 13, 2003 8:37 AM

The guys a hack and a beautiful example of why modern poetry is completely ignored.

Posted by: pchuck at September 13, 2003 9:28 AM

Besides which, wasn't he wrong? My understanding of the last times doctrine, somewhat sketchy at best, is that is allows for true conversions to Christianity by those who are left behind, not that they (we) will all be damned. I know that I plan, after the Rapture, to give conversion serious consideration.

Posted by: David Cohen at September 13, 2003 10:09 AM

Yes, y'all get one more shot.

Posted by: oj at September 13, 2003 10:13 AM

I agree that Codrescu is a nitwit.

Still, he was right about the crap, wasn't he?

I mean, these Christians are preaching an unsavory, I would even say blasphemous, version of God.

Beyond that, though, why is what Codrescu said any more despicable than what Christians do all the time? They have told me hundreds, maybe even thousands of times, that if I don't accept Jesus as my personal savior, I'm going to hell.

All but a few of these unwanted insults came in public, in the presence of others, practically all of them also Christians. Did any of them ever say that someone had "crossed a line"?

Of course not.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 15, 2003 5:09 PM


There's a difference between you going to Hell and someone saying you should be killed to make the world a better place. Though when the Second Coming occurs, according to the faithful, you will have an opportunity to recognize that you were wrong and thereby save yourself. Presumably, given your faith in materialism, you'd not have a problem with that once you saw it happen personally, right?

Posted by: oj at September 15, 2003 6:41 PM

Codrescu is very clear and orthodox in saying that God is doing the killing, so it ill beseems you to carp about that being crap.

Given a choice of eternity with the Evangelicals and Hell with Andrei, it'd be a tough choice, but there's only one of him, so I choose Hell.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at September 15, 2003 10:11 PM


What does it matter who kills them if you wish them dead?

You'd choose Hell even if you witnessed a miracle? Would it just overload your rationalist sprockets?

Posted by: oj at September 15, 2003 10:29 PM