September 2, 2007


Arthur Miller: Death of a Phony (Thomas Lifson, 9/02/07, Real Clear Politics)

I think I only saw The Crucible once, and its crude allegory of the Salem Witch Trials for McCarthyism was insulting. I hated it. I only saw the film version of All My Sons, starring Edward G. Robinson (I was and remain a huge fan of Robinson), and although it was apparently not terribly faithful to the original play, I found it, too, excessively preoccupied with America the evil and corrupt and soulless nation that I knew to be a false exaggeration of ordinary and common human flaws into a political critique of a system.

I guess that one could say that in denigrating America, Miller was ahead of his time, pointing the way for the arts crowd to turn from the patriotism common during World War II to the hate-America stance that has reigned since the Vietnam War. In all of Miller's works I encountered, I found pretension and phoniness: an intellectual's disdain for the country which rewarded him handsomely. A Sean Penn with more brains.

Now, a new piece has been added to the puzzle and it fits right into place, completing a disturbing picture of a scoundrel. It turns out that Miller really was a disgraceful phony when it came to the sphere of life which matters most: his family. The UK Daily Mail reports:

Arthur Miller, the American playwright and former husband of Marilyn Monroe, hid the existence of a son born with Down's syndrome for nearly four decades, it has emerged.

Miller, whose plays examined questions of guilt and morality, virtually cut the boy out of his life after committing him to a mental institution when he was one week old.

The secret son, named Daniel, now nearly 41, did not receive a mention in his father's memoir, Timebends.

Pardon me for getting on a high horse and judging another without knowing all the facts. Maybe I am wrong, but this strikes me as horribly twisted. Down Syndrome people can and do live useful lives. They come equipped with souls, emotions, and everything else that makes us worthy children of God. Judging by the few I have met, many of them are better human beings than most of us. I know of parents who speak of the incredibly deep bonds of love with their Down Syndrome children.

Thank God, someone with more humanity than Miller intervened before it was too late, and convinced the playwright and deep moral thinker to include Daniel in his will just six weeks before he died two years ago. That person turns out to be the very gifted actor Daniel Day-Lewis, who married Daniel's sister Rebecca Miller, and who was reported to be "appalled" at the treatment given to Daniel.

We had to read The Crucible in the 8th grade and the teacher was appalled when I noted that it was entirely appropriate for a society to persecute confessed witches. She thought it significant that witchcraft isn't real, though had no counterargument for the fact that believers in it had placed themselves at existential odds with their decent neighbors. She finally sought refuge in the fact that it was really just an allegory about the "Witch Hunts" against communists, but was truly helpless in the face of the fact that communism obviously was real and that folks like Arthur Miller, Dashiell Hammett, Lillian Hellman, etc. were communist and thus enemies of America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 2, 2007 12:00 AM

The creepiest part about modern witchcraft, the Wiccans and Neo-pagans and Latter Day Voodoo and crystal-lites, etc., is their belief that they have the secret power to influence and control other people, especially non-believers, against their will. And that power is only available to the believer and somehow not only makes the witchcraft believer a superior person, but a power that should be used whenever possible for the believer's personal gain even at the expect of the larger society. Just operating on that supremacist assumption should be sufficient for exclusion from a society.Of course people whose goal is to subvert and destroy a society should be subject to "persecution", as a self-defensive move. (And to a certain extent, the same complaint can be lodged against the Muslim supremacists in their acting on their belief that non-believers must "submit" to them and their god.)

But here's another question: How is the persecution of "witches" different from centuries of pogroms against the Jews? I'd argue that the difference, and what makes the pogroms wrong is that Jews were never out to subvert the society, and remake it into their own image, and thus innocent of the crimes accused. Their success was not at the expense of the society as a whole, either. They were just very good at making the best of the niches they found/were forced into, and so the pogroms were fueled by envy and jealousy. No one is envious or jealous of your typical, pitiful (when not hilarious) Wiccan. (Or Muslim, despite their oil wealth.)

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at September 2, 2007 10:32 AM

oj, what a trial you must have been to your poor beleaguered teachers.

Raoul, great analysis.

Isn't it funny how even as children with little or no information, we can see what's phony so clearly.

Posted by: erp at September 2, 2007 11:14 AM

It's not that different. Persecution of Jews, who ostentatiously refused to assimilate, was justified. It just wasn't necessary because the qualities of the beliefs are quite different. Jews are mistaken about the Messiah, but generally right and rather harmless. Witchcraft is evil.

Posted by: oj at September 2, 2007 1:34 PM

"Sean Penn with brains."

Sean Penn's dad was a blacklisted director. Sean seems to love any dictator, so long as he isn't the apparently dictatorial Bush.

I think an easier explanation of these nuts is simply a natural hatred of our Christian heritage, which includes Judaism but not witchcraft.

Posted by: Randall Voth at September 2, 2007 3:12 PM

Raoul, as usual, is insightful.

I don't take the "powers" of witches/pagans very seriously because most of the ones I've met have been grossly overweight. If their magic can't handle something as straightforward as weight loss, I figure it's not anything to worry about.

Posted by: PapayaSF at September 2, 2007 3:24 PM

The Crucible is really about Marilyn, and Miller's having it in for women after their breakup.

Posted by: Steve at September 2, 2007 7:26 PM