Monday, February 27, 2017

The Horrific Consequences Of Believing Our Preferred Fictions And Why The Smart Guys Are As Willing To Suspend Disbelief As The Rubes

Obviously, the reality TV created Donald Trump most of the people who voted for him believe in, isn't the real Donald Trump.  But that TV fiction can produce horrendous consequences when that TV substitute for reality is taken by the vulnerable to be reality.   And before you smug smarties figure this is going to be an opportunity for you to look down on those idiots, you'll get yours in a few minutes.

The Donald Trump that TV manipulation of an audience produced is clearly not the insane idiot who sits in the White House, a slave to his crass appetites and his inner 2-year-old he really is, TV Trump is the macho, high-roller, user of others to make a bundle and live the kind of putrid, vulgar high-life that TV and Hollywood also sell.  As a president the horrors of that substitution of the fictionalized Trump for reality can't be stopped by the directors, producers, writers or even the tyranny of the hour blocking of the American TV schedule to move on to the next distraction.  It's all too real.

In that product of the degraded form of drama that "realty" TV is we have a good example of what happens when people in large numbers are served up the phony, the lying, the manipulative and ersatz reality of the worst of theatrical entertainment.  Don't forget, Donald Trump isn't just an actor, he's a consumer of the stuff.   We also have an example, perhaps somewhat less horrific, when the pro-wrestler Jesse Ventura rather shockingly became governor of the once believed sensible state of Minnesota,  That was also a product of TV.   That warning of the consequences of replacing the lowest of theatrical manipulation as a substitute for reality was a warning which America did not take.

In the Donald Trump phenomenon, the danger of imposing the commercial form of pretended reality on real life are becoming terrifyingly obvious.

Yesterday's exercise in considering the possible use of the life of Edgaro Mortara to make an ideological movie isn't an entirely separate thing from the above.  Any cinematic use of him and his story will create a fiction, it's inevitable when you translate any life into a theatrical form, it will distort that reality for its own purposes.

In thinking about the possible use of his life to make a movie you either have to consider Mortara's judgment of his kidnapping by Pius IX which didn't condemn it which will not permit the results you might want, or you have to ignore those completely, substituting the judgement of the results of that of someone else, his parents, other members of his family, or, in a rapidly descending circle of those with absolutely no standing to override Mortara's own judgement of his life, supposed advocates, scholars, ideologues and polemicists who expropriate Mortara's ultimate expertise to make that decision about himself and his biography.

The ideological use of Mortara's life, and, worse, not even his life but just the kidnapping, is about the only part of the real Mortara that ever gets into our view of him.  That would be least true in an historical treatment of his life which takes into account his own judgement of what it means, which , he not being stupid or insane, would, at least be fair.  Consider that his own thinking matters and, it being his life which is the ultimate matter to consider, it is more important than even the relatively few other people with actual standing to have an opinion of it that should matter.

Any non-ideological treatment of his life is stuck with two irreconcilable facts, the fact that the kidnapping was by any modern thinking wrong, a wrong to his parents and family, beyond question but also the fact that the adult Edgardo Mortara didn't see it that way*.  I agreed and agree that the kidnapping was wrong but I also acknowledge that I don't have a right to ignore Mortara's own judgment of his own life.   That situation might not lead to a satisfyingly final and single view of the events but my satisfaction isn't what determines the character of what happened.  That there is no pat moral conclusion possible if you take Mortara's adult judgment of his life into consideration as well as that of his parents who would certainly have not liked that result, as well.

A theatrical, instead of a responsible historical treatment of the reality of Edgardo Mortara's life would almost certainly have to disregard his own view of his life.  Considering that a theatrical production that did justice to even the both sides that had any real standing to have an opinion on it would not reach a satisfying denoument, reach a just conclusion or leave the audience and the critics happy, the play would never get written that way.  Or, if it were, it would close, probably during previews.  And what is true of theater is ever so much more true of a Hollywood movie which exists, ultimately, to make money by giving the audience what it already wanted or to sell them an easy, facile, and, so, false view of any complex event.  Which is why Hollywood history ain't never going to be history.

I think if the movie is released I might overcome my allergy to Hollywood history to see it but the thing I will be interested in is whether or not Tony Kushner has made a deal with the devil and sold his soul to tinsel town.  I doubt that the complex and clearly fictionalized view of historical figures to explore the moral implications will be present in the movie, I think he'll have gone for the ideological safe and pat treatment of it.  It's what Hollywood does with history, it's what just about every theatrical and even much of popular history does with it.  But putting it up on a screen with filmed actors, convincing sets and the rest of simulated  reality, flooding and aiding our suspension of disbelief gives it a dangerous potency that no one falls for like the ideologically prepared mind - in that probably the most ready audience to be swayed to what they already want to believe are those with an education.   Political ideology, especially the potent brands of it that will inform a Tony Kushner audience, makes them as vulnerable to suspend their disbelief as a conservative who watched The Apprentice or World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.  Only they add the arrogance of believing they're smarter than they are to it.

*  Again, I have to point out, that if at the same age, an atheist had begun the conversion of Edgardo Mortara out of believing, observant Judaism into materialist atheism, perhaps a socialism that would turn, in the fullness of time, into some acceptably violent anarchism or Marxism, the ideological treatment of that story would likely reach entirely different conclusions that, as well, would probably not have made his parents happy.  In which case just about all of those without any proper standing would switch allegiances.

Note:  It occurs to me that the ideological use of Edgardo Mortara is a lot like the ideological use of Phineas Gage, only in the case of Mortara, a man who was educated and able to leave a record of his thoughts which Gage did not, his own judgment could be taken into consideration.  I will point out that Gage's life, seen without ideological filters, doesn't support the atheist-materialist Gage that most people believe was the real man was after his famous accident.  The Phineas Gage most people believe they know about is a pseudo-scientific, ideological puppet that can be made to do what suits their ideological purposes.  It's not like the man who, after the accident, moved to Chile and worked at the challenging job of driving a stage coach, in a country where he'd have had to learn a new language and which would require what the ideologues claim he lost.   Not even that reality overrides the ideological lies.

Update:  I just read this interesting article about a play  on this subject produced in 2002, Edgardo Mine by Alfred Urey.   As, reportedly, the Speilberg-Kushner movie, it was inspired by the book by David Kertzer,  "The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara".   In the review Alfred Urey said he didn't want to make the play one-sided, opting to tell the story out of the points of view of Pius IX and Marianna Mortara, the boy's mother.   His explanation of why he changed his original idea of telling the story from the boy's point of view is interesting:

At first I thought I would make the boy the main character.  But he wasn't the one who put things into play.  ... So I didn't know what to do, until one day I saw a big color engraving of Pope Pius IX.  I saw that picture and thought:  “He's an actor.  Hes a ham.  Look at that costume.  Look at that headdress."  I never met any popes,  but I've met lots of show-offs,  and that's a character I can relate to.  I felt that I knew this man, his piety, his sense of self, his sense of humor.  The character of the pope began to fascinate me, because he really felt he was doing God's will, and it was painful for him to do this.  He believed he had no choice.

Which could take several more posts to go into.  First, the choice to leave the boy out avoids the unpopular fact that he, the person whose point of view is the one with the highest standing took what is now an unpopular view of it, I don't blame him, I don't like that idea either and am sure a play that included it wouldn't be well received by a modern audience.   Remember, I'm the one who said I didn't think an honest view of this story would make a successful drama.

I also thought it was interesting because Urey's idea that Pius IX "had no choice" would be how someone who had a view of the Catholic religion as a form of brain washing that produced automatons might believe someone like Pius IX would think of it. In my experience, it's how secularist-modernist people figure religious people don't think.  I have a strong feeling that if he were able to answer that idea, he would deny that was the case.  But I don't know what he'd have said anymore than Urey does.   The only possible means of knowing that is in what was, actually said by the people involved.

All of this makes me ever more wary of the use of historical events and, especially, the lives of real people in an ersatz realist presentation of those events than ever.  I think if people want to say something about other times and other places and to use them for their own purposes, they should invent characters who are independent of the real people who don't volunteer to be turned into ideological cartoons.   I wonder what would happen if, in such a play, someone took a child who was taken from their parents and trained in some other ideology which was not religious but which the parents didn't approve of but the religion of the parents was "the wrong one" how it would be received.  Say a child who was being schooled in creationism taken and turned into a conventional materialist-atheist-Darwinist.   I can't imagine the feelings of the parents would count for much and such a play would almost certainly not be written or made into a movie.

It reminds me of the story I know of a woman, the mother of one of my in-laws, who was put up for adoption by her protestant mother at an early age, placed temporarily with a Catholic family where she was loved and well cared for but, according to the policy of the social worker establishment in their state, was removed from them when a protestant placement could be found, a placement where she was unhappy and not loved as she had been with a family of "the wrong" faith.  She felt the decision of the social workers damaged her life.  I'd say that she was the one who got to make that judgement.

Who does a child belong to, in the end?  How much does a child belong to their parents, their family, their ethnicity, their religion?   Damned if I know the answer to that but I doubt any of the scholars, scribblers, directors, producers, etc. named in these posts does, either.

I do know that Edgardo Mortara doesn't belong to them, certainly not more than he belonged to himself.  They are doing with him, as a real person, something not much different from what they accuse Pius IX of doing with him.

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