August 12, 2009


Can You Hate the Artist but Love the Art? (Randy Cohen, 8/10/09, NY Times)

Last Wednesday Budd Schulberg died at 95. He was a journalist (particularly astute about boxing), a novelist (‘‘What Makes Sammy Run’’) and above all a screenwriter: ‘‘On the Waterfront’’ is a glorious accomplishment. He was also a man who named names to the House Un-American Activities Committee. It is not easy to reconcile Schulberg’s disheartening testimony with his splendid work. Does rejecting the artist mean rejecting the art? [...]

Knowing about Schulberg’s (to me) perfidious conduct — he himself defended his testimony throughout his life — can affect how we see ‘‘On the Waterfront,’’ adulterating its joys, corrupting even its most famous scene. That’s psychology more than ethics — no conscious decision is involved — but it is particularly potent psychology.

Actually, not only is it almost exclusively a moral question, but the entire movie is a rebuke to Mr. Cohen's personal code. To love the movie, for his ilk, is to hate oneself.

After all, the entire point of On the Waterfront is that it is more important to stand up to a gang of thugs than to follow the code of silence that their dominance depends on. As Frank Serpico said: "The problem is not so much that there are a lot of corrupt people, but rather that there are so many that the honest are scared of the corrupt." We, even those on the Left, respond to these films because the ethos of confronting rather than collaborating with evil is so powerful that it rather easily overcomes all that nonsense about snitching and being a rat.

You can understand how this response would be so traumatic for someone like Mr. Cohen, who places omerta above other values, because it forces them to recognize that their argument against men like Schulberg and Kazan is essentially an argument against Terry Malloy and Father Barry and in support of Johnny Friendly and Charlie the Gent.

For a professional ethicist in particular, that has to be a bitter pill to swallow. But the object of his hatred should be himself, not Budd Schulberg..

Stalin in charge: New research shows how the Soviet Politburo and the secret police served a single man (Donald Rayfield, August 12, 2009, The Times Literary Supplement)

From 1925, when Stalin began to dominate the “collective” leadership, to 1936, when he had physically eliminated every possible opponent, rival or even plausible successor, the Politburo gradually lost any resemblance it had once had to a Cabinet of ministers. All the evidence we have shows that, except for very rare occasions, the Politburo acted more as a secretariat; any demurral, let alone dissent, was quickly suppressed. Its members were called on to sign their names, or telephone their assent, when Stalin proposed a particularly gruesome process, such as the annotated “shooting lists” of 1937–8 for 44,000 persons holding posts important enough to require Politburo sanction for execution, or the 1940 decision to murder 22,000 captive Polish officers (the Katyn affair). Otherwise, they were the muscles that tensed or relaxed their grip on the population according to the impulses that came from Stalin’s brain.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 12, 2009 5:59 AM
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