HOW NOT TO LOOK LIKE AN IDIOT: "Know What You're Talking About."

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"It’s 1985 and Nixon is President. We’ve won in Vietnam. Oh, and Henry Kissinger has a Russian accent. And Ronald Reagan is thinking of running for President in 1988. Wow, isn’t that cool that they got it wrong on purpose? I’m so amazed at this “high-brow art” of deliberately getting dates and timelines wrong, you know, just to be “artistic,” and get the drooling of the critics. That is sooooo genius. Like way totally cool."

That was written by Debbie Schlussel, a conservative pundit and occasional film critic. (She rates movies in terms of one to five Marxes, which is pretty funny). She's not my style of conservative, but I take no issue with her. She does what she does, and she gets paid for it, which is more than I can say for myself.

Her review was just pointed out to me by a liberal friend as an example of all that is wrong with us and our movement. [see update below] Obviously, he's overreacting. He does make a point, however: In this instance, the reviewer is talking - loudly and angrily - about stuff she clearly doesn't understand, and embarrassing herself - and us - in the process.

Why is this a problem? Because we got pantsed in '08, and while the incompetence of the Left is leading to our resurgence at present, we can still blow it. Let me put that another way: A lot of our resurgence is *caused* by the Left blowing it wildly in the last three years. That's not good enough by my way of thinking. I don't want us to be the default option. I want us to be the first choice. If that's to happen, then we need to stand for something more than random moral outrage and kneejerk reactionary behavior. We need to be the smart ones. We need to be what the other side doesn't want us to be.

I've picked this review as an example because it's utterly trivial, and shouldn't therefore give any offence to anyone. It's an incident from several years ago, over and done with. In fact, there's much in the review I agree with: She complains about idiots who take their kids to see NC-17 movies; she criticizes the film's over-indulgent violence, and, as you'll recall, I didn't like the movie myself. ( ) so she and I are of a mind about all the parts of the issue that really matter.

Clearly, however, she doesn't "Get it." I don't know her, I don't know her background, but the sense I got from her review was that she wasn't a geek, and had never been into comics. She seems unaware that some comics *are not* kids stuff, and were never intended as such. Watchmen, clearly, from its inception, was one of these. She seems perplexed by the idea that a superhero movie would be something other than "The Superfriends." She overlooks the darkening trend in Superhero flicks that has been going on since Burton's Batman in 1988, and included such important bits as Nazi death camps in "The X-Men" and pretty much everything connected to the current Batman iteration. She seems aghast that something she knows nothing about would be different than she expected it to be.

That's a little egotistical, isn't it? If I have no exposure to, say, poetry, and I walk into a reading, then clearly I'm out of my depth. If I say "That wasn't realistic at all because people don't talk in rhyme," then I'm missing the point, aren't I? If I go to see a Cubism exhibit without knowing what Cubism is, and then complain about how that Picasso feller draws the women with the eyes on the same side of their head, then, again, I'm missing the point. If I see a statue of Michelangelo's David, and I say "It's dirty" because the guy's naked, then what does that say? Does it speak about the art, or does it talk about me, personally?

My point is that there generally *is* a point to these things. Poetry is not reality, but words and meter chosen to give an emotional impact about things that may or may not be real. Cubism is an attempt to give a sense of what all sides of an object look like simultaneously. David is an idealized glorification of humanism. You're free to like or not like any of those, as is your taste, but it is a fundamental intellectual flaw to say "Since I don't get it, there is nothing there to get, and it's meaningless and naughty, and altogether bad for my skin." You're free to hate and love as you see fit, but hate comes easier than love, and it's a good idea to do a reality check before you put too much energy in it. You *MIGHT* (but likely aren't) shutting yourself off from something you could potentially love, but the greater risk is becoming the kind of reactionary coot who thinks everything new is inherently evil.

That's kind of the reputation we, as Conservatives, have, you know. It's why the swing voters don't take us seriously on the more thorny insightful issues, and it's a major reason why the Left looks down on us. Should we care what the other side thinks of us? To an extent. We shouldn't care if they like us or not, of course, it's not a popularity contest, but we *should* pay attention to their criticisms. Sometimes - rarely - they perceive shortcomings we haven't notices. More often, though, their criticisms reveal areas where they're vulnerable. If they think we're stupid, then it means they think they're smart. If we turn out to be smarter than they think we are, it makes them vulnerable enough to question many of their own basic assumptions. The more moderate ones will change sides.

Intelligence is important. As I've always always always said: It is not enough for us to beat the Democrats: we need to be *better* than them. That means holding ourselves to a higher standard than they do.

Which brings us back to our the review in question:

In addition to all the stuff I cited above that Schlussel seems unaware of, she clearly, clearly, clearly doesn't get the concept of the alternate history. "Wow, isn’t that cool that they got it wrong on purpose? I’m so amazed at this 'high-brow art' of deliberately getting dates and timelines wrong, you know, just to be 'artistic,' and get the drooling of the critics. That is sooooo genius. Like way totally cool."

Alternate history is a difficult concept, and so I'll cut some slack for her not understanding it, even though it's been a common plot device for more than a century. The idea behind things is not to show life *as it is,* but rather how history could have gone. What if the South won the Civil War? What if (As Newt Gingrich wrote), the US only fought Japan in World War II, and ignored Germany? Just the fact that Gingrich wrote a best-selling novel on that subject proves that it's not an inherently liberal thing. Traditionally the Alternate History is the purview of pulp fiction. It's not regarded as particularly artistic, and believe you me there was little critical drooling over the Watchmen movie. (There was a *lot* of it over the comic a quarter century ago, however.) Basically, what her screed tells us is that she's never seen this particular narrative trick used before (though Newt used it), didn't immediately understand it, and therefore reacted with outrage.

What she *didn't* do - what we as Conservatives frequently fail to do - is to simply ask someone who seems to be enjoying the movie/reading/book/art "What the heck is this about?" Then they'll explain it, and you can make a more reasoned, intelligent decision as to whether or not it's a good thing or a bad thing.

For the record, the "What if" aspect of The Watchmen was simply this: If Superheroes had *really* started showing up in the 1930s, how would that have affected the world? Politics? Law enforcement? Are superheroes really such a good idea anyway? In the comic, and in the movie, superheroes changed the outcome of the Vietnam war (We won. Big.) This resulted in Nixon winning five consecutive terms as president. There you go: I was able to explain the "Deliberately getting dates and timelines wrong' thing in two sentences. Not so hard, right? Just because you don't immediately get something doesn't mean there isn't something there to get.

All one has to do is ask.

No, seriously: all one has to do is ask.

I've noticed a disturbing trend in the last couple years for us on the right to rail on with outrage about things that are complete non issues, as though the future of the Republic hinges on "GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra" being properly reviled. (No luck there. It made money. The sequel is in preproduction) A lot of the things we rail against are very important: Abortion, Euthanasia, whether or not Majority Rule is subordinate to the needs of special interest groups, terrorism, many aspects of Obamacare, our economic problems. These are all clear and and present dangers. These deserve our attention, and more importantly, our understanding. The Watchmen? Non-issue. Getting riled up over The Watchmen because you didn't understand it? That's just silly. Refusing to print a retraction or append your opinion when literally hundreds of people point out your error in the comments? That's just ignorant. Turning your confused anger into a public screed that makes Conservatives look like dopes, and drives away anyone who *does* understand what it was all about? Well, that's just sad.

And easily avoided: Just ask.

Seriously: I make myself available to you. If there's some SF thing or storytelling thing or whatever that you just flat out don't get, ask me. I'm at If I know anything about it, I'll be happy to try and explain. Or, if you don't like me (I can't imagine how such a thing would be possible) then just drop by your local comic book shop, and some overweight guy there will be happy to explain it in great detail. It's easy. Just ask.

Never, never, never, never, never, never, never be afraid of asking questions. It's the first step to being able to knowing what you're talking about, and being able to intelligently pick your battles.

Ms. Schlussel's full review is online here

UPDATE 2/8/11

My friend read this interview, and took issue with my characterizing him as a Liberal when in fact he's a Center-Right Social Libertarian, and "I didn't use the review as an example of anything other than annoying idiocy." I publicly apologize for misrepresenting him, and I'm going to blame it on my rapidly deteriorating 45-year-old brain, which is of course code for stupid, lazy inattention.