Saturday, October 29, 2011

Stick to your guns my friend

In an otherwise rather banal article written by Stephen Marche in the Sunday NY Times Magazine, Marche takes Michael Bay wanna-be director Roland Emmerich to task for suggesting the man who wrote Shakespeare's plays wasn't actually Shakespeare in his new movie Anonymous.  I have already read enough articles on the subject to recognize that the academic foundation for what is known as the Oxfordian Theory of Shakespearian Authorship is flimsy at best (why so much ink has been spilt on a movie that will utterly bomb at the box office is another question altogether). The part of the piece I want to highlight however is the end of the article where he goes all rogue on the intellectually inferior. He writes:

"The wider public, which has no reason to be familiar with questions of either Renaissance chronology or climate science, assumes that if there are arguments, there must be reasons for those arguments. Along with a right-wing antielitism, an unthinking left-wing open-mindedness and relativism have also given lunatic ideas soil to grow in. Our politeness has actually led us to believe that everybody deserves a say.
The problem is that not everybody does deserve a say. Just because an opinion exists does not mean that the opinion is worthy of respect. Some people deserve to be marginalized and excluded. There are many questions in this world over which rational people can have sensible confrontations: whether lower taxes stimulate or stagnate growth; whether abortion is immoral; whether the ’60s were an achievement or a disaster; whether the universe is motivated by a force for benevolence; whether the Fonz jumping on water skis over a shark was cool or lame. Whether Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare is not one of these questions."

I generally appreciate this kind of inflated rhetoric. Screw the civic bullshit. I won't quibble with the rather benign equivalences between right and left ideologies in the first paragraph. I think it's obvious in this instance he holds more contempt for the right than he does for the left and if the left needs to be called excessively open-minded in order to meet some kind of "false equivalences quota", well then, there are worst things in the world to be called.  Anyway, the point I want to make is that I like the elitist aggressivesness in these paragraphs.  As he points out, not everybody "deserves a say." Do people have a right to a say? Of course. Do they deserve one? Probably not. Unfortunately, Marche makes the rather predictable (and journalistically mandated) mistake of listing differences that are "reasonable". Predictably, they fall outside his fields of expertise. As Marche suggests, "Shakespeare was a fraud? Preposterous! Take it from a professor of literature." OK, I can and I will. But then he goes on to talk about topics where "reasonable people" can disagree. The disagreements he goes on to list are equally preposperous, but I guess they fall outside his subject expertise.  Taxation for example. Who would disagree with the statement that, in a vacuum, lower taxes will stimulate growth? Nobody. In fact most liberals were advocating for tax cuts (in accordance with increased spending) during the current economic recession. In fact, we are still advocating for tax cuts to stimulate the economy. Don't believe me? Click here. Now, we might argue that there are better ways to stimulate growth, but no real economist would ultimately argue that lowering taxes in and of themselves would stagnate growth. Marche also suggests that rational people might disagree "whether the 60's were an achievement or a disaster." Um, no they wouldn't. People who disagree that the 60's were a success are either dumb, liars, or assholes. Most likely all of the above. Let's see what kind of shit happened in the decade when those dirty hippies were dropping acid at Woodstock - there is the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1969, both cited by political scientists as two of the most important pieces of legislation signed in American history. Oh yeah, there was also the creation of the Peace Corps, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1964 (which amongst other things, created Head Start), the Higher Education Act of 1965, and the Social Security Act of 1965 (which created Medicare and Medicaid). Oh yeah, we also landed on the fucking moon. So tell me again how we should sit-down and have a reasonable argument over whether or not the 60's "were a success." I guess reasonable people can disagree!

Anyway, I guess my point is that I liked Marche's instincts to go for the jugular but the article (which I remind you, is actually about William Shakespeare), stills falls into dangerous political tropes of personal bias and false equivalences. "I am an expert in literature so I can tell you Shakespeare was real and the people that suggest othrwise are idiots" writes Marche. Wonderful. I, Dixon, agree with you. So why then do you go ahead and undergo your argument by citing other examples where professionals and academics ultimately only disagree with ideological hacks and paid lobbyists? How does this strengthen your argument? How do you end an article this way?

1 comment:

  1. Is the Shakespeare authorship question one that can be determined empirically at this point? Anyway, I think Emmerich is a pretty good director (Stargate, Independence Day, The Patriot) and he happens to be a gay director so I support him. Whether or not the premise of his film has scholastic merit, it is at least an interesting premise for a fictional film I'd think.