By Dr. Norman Berdichevsky
Long before the turbulent 60s, there was a strong attachment of many of America’s leading writers and filmmakers with the Left.
This has predisposed much political thought to follow the cultural trends perceived as ‘enlightened’, ‘progressive’, ‘idealistic’ and ‘cool’.
The staple themes of American literature from Sinclair Lewis (Babbit, Arrowsmith, Elmer Gantry), continuing on through Arthur Miller (All My Sons, Death of a Salesman), Saul Bellow (Seize the Day), Norman Mailer (The White Negro, The Armies of the Night, The Executioner’s Song), and Henry Miller (The Air Conditioned Nightmare, Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn, The Cosmological Eye) are a corrupt, materialistic, puritanical, ultra-competitive, sexually frustrated neurotic society that owes its fundamental values to American competitiveness.
Europe, by contrast, may have poverty and aristocracy but holds out the promise of ‘class’, ‘chic’, style, ‘refinement’ and the ‘enchantment’ of a militant working class movement ready to rise to change the old world and usher in a new age while America has bewitched the poor working class slobs into believing they can share in the cake of affluence.
In the Cosmological Eye (1939), Miller foresees an act of cosmic karma for America’s sins that predates the attack of 9/11 by more than 70 years on the twin towers, and expects some future act of cosmic vengeance ………Until this colossal, senseless machine which we have made of America is smashed and scrapped there can be no hope.”
Never once did Miller or other successful critical authors who were outraged by what they found reprehensible in American society express any condemnation or surprise or shock at the excesses of totalitarian societies responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of ordinary people but were often motivated to write in defense of convicted murderers in the United States to express their support of those outcasts whom they felt had acted out of desperation as ‘victims of society’.
Their misplaced passion for the underdog continues today with automatic expressions of support on the Left for many murderers and rapists on death row, illegal immigrants, displaced Palestinian refugees, and even the 9/11 suicide attackers who murdered three thousand American civilians at work but who ‘must’ be ‘understood’ and their crimes also attributed to some legitimate grievance.
The War in Defense of Western Civilization against Islamist Fundamentalism and Jihad is rejected by many on the Left today who cannot accept that it is both necessary, and moral to act in self-defense when they have accepted the premise of the morally neutral, post-modernist view that no culture is better or worse than any other.
In a brilliant essay, Professor Sam Bluefarb, has pointed out what must be the most revealing and atrocious example of intellectual sophistry that puts Miller alongside today’s cultural idols who likewise follow an example of pacifism collapsing into idiocy. We have the advantage of more than seventy years of hindsight to evaluate Miller’s preposterous proposal…….
The surest way to defeat Hitler would, in my opinion, be for Europe to surrender willingly. I go farther—I say let him have the whole world. Can you see what would happen to his grandiose ideas [sic] if there were no resistance? Hitler, or anyone who seeks power, is only a force as long as he is opposed. Imagine laying out the problems of the world before him [and expecting him] to solve them. The man would die of brain fever overnight.”
The “Pull” of the accumulated ‘Gravity’ of the many authors, playwrights and other artists, intellectuals and academia is overwhelmingly towards the Left and has exerted its force for decades. Its ‘compassion’ is reserved only for those on the fringes of society or Third World failed states and peoples.
Two of the most honestly gruesome films of barbaric atrocities in modern times ever made are the Russian film ‘The Chekist’ and the Polish film Katyn. ‘The Chekist’ was directed by Aleksandr Rogozhkin (1992 Cannes Film Festival Award) but hardly rated mention anywhere in the United States. The unbelievable atrocities of torture and mass execution seen in the film were all confirmed by Pravda in 1921-22.
Katyn is the true story of the slaughter of 22,000 Polish officers on April, 1940 by Stalin’s henchmen and based on the book Post Mortem: The Story of Katyn by Anderzj Mularczyk. It was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. The Russian leadership has admitted the guilt of Stalin in the Katyn massacre, finally turned into a dramatic film in the 2007 Polish production.
It is an emotionally horrifying and draining experience to view these films. Both these films’ producers and actors have been brutally honest enough to graphically portray the unvarnished horror of the Communist regimes to their fellow citizens in Poland and Russia, something no Hollywood producer has dared to do and about which, most of the American public shows no interest.
Contrast this with the host of anti-Nazi films made during World War II that established Hollywood’s ‘patriotic reputation’ and the naked fact that no serious major Hollywood feature film has dealt with the epic battle against totalitarian communism. The films with a major international political theme made before American entry into the war hardly touched on the Soviet Union except for a light comedy like Ninotchka (MGM 1939).
During the war, Hollywood went overboard in its portrayal of the USSR and Stalin as a valuable ally with no serious attempt to excuse the atrocities of the regime that were already well known in the late 1930s and the 22 months of Soviet-Nazi cooperation from September 1939 to June 1941.
Hollywood’s ever more leftward drift extended in recent time to JFK, (Oliver Stone) a film that not just cast doubt, but spread malicious rumor and innuendo accusing the CIA and Vice President Johnson of complicity in the murder of President Kennedy and casting both the wretched and delusional assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and the unscrupulous New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison in a sympathetic light. The film changes reality by misrepresenting and inventing ‘facts’ to fit the supposed conspiracy in which the CIA, the Mafia, Vice President Johnson are all cast in the shadow of suspicion and guilt.
Another travesty of the American cinema is Gangs of New York, (Martin Scorsese) a totally distorted account of the 1863 Draft Riots that outdoes Nazi and Soviet propaganda in its depiction of every aspect of American society and government as venal, corrupt and racist. The directors of these two films are considered among the ‘most distinguished’ in America. They are well known for their leftwing views and their films exceed in vituperative lies anything produced by Nazi and Soviet propaganda in their heydays.
I saw this film in Spain. The Spanish audience emerged visibly shaken by the violent scenes. In their discussion about the movie that I overhead and read in reactions to the newspapers, many viewers reflected that the film “confirmed” their anti-American sentiments regarding American foreign policy in Iraq, and the old prejudice still deeply held that America has been “anti-Catholic” as well as anti-Negro, anti-immigrant and simply anti-poor.
This rewriting of history by the Left is an art-form in its own right, one that pays absolutely NO attention to historical fact. Gangs of New York was based on the 1928 nonfiction book of the same title by Herbert Asbury. The film is homage to how low an art form can sink and what happens when Hollywood teaches history. Rarely, if ever, has an historical film distorted the truth in such a consistent and flagrant manner.
The film matches the worst anti-American propaganda of both Nazi and Soviet regimes in portraying American society as culturally debased, violent, ruled by corrupt politicians, dominated by the rich who control the police and anxious to receive new immigrants only to use them as cannon fodder, views combined with cinematography sufficient to earn it ten Academy Award nominations in 2002 for BEST film, actor, director etc., etc. It didn’t win in any category but has widely been referred to as “great historical epic.”
It is symptomatic of American self hatred by a small clique of Hollywood producers that include Oliver Stone (JFK) whose films violate every cannon of historical research and have had a huge impact on the way young people in particular developed an instinctive gut reaction blaming their country and viewing all its faults with a magnifying glass. Time Magazine, with the same world view as much of Hollywood, nominated Scorsese in 2007 for one of the 100 most influential persons in the world.
One would expect an Italian-American filmmaker to be particularly sensitive and cautious about ethnic stereotypes. Certainly, Hollywood must answer for the hundreds of movies in which Italian-Americans were consistently portrayed as gangsters, bootleggers, pimps, prostitutes, boxers, organ grinders and pickpockets. Former New York Mayor and City Prosecutor Rudy Giuliani has poignantly discussed how much pain this stereotype has caused.
Whatever its artistic merits, another big blockbuster The Godfather focused only on violent Italian-Americans in an epic dealing with immigration, crime and the difficulties of assimilation. Viewers might have hoped that Scorsese would have tried to present a film that avoided the worst excesses of blatant propaganda. Gangs of New York is a travesty. Whatever its cinematic qualities, the film presents the ugliest picture possible of America prior to the Civil War and falsifies the events of the great Draft Riots in New York City in July, 1863.
It is the pervasive, graphic violence of Gangs of New York that is particularly shocking. Blood flows in rivers on cobblestone streets, eyes are torn out, flesh is ripped apart by butcher cleavers, axes, spears, knives, clubs, bricks and bullets. Politicians kill one another as well as any bystander who doesn’t vote for them. For the span of the movie, a brawl or riot erupts at the drop of a hat. There is a public lynching of four men. Crucifixion is not omitted. Throats are slit, skulls cracked open, limbs severed, and torsos disemboweled yet strangely enough, most of the characters including the prostitutes appear to be in vibrant good health with perfect teeth including several Chinese women at a time when 95% of the Chinese present in New York City were males.
The scene of most of the action is the Five Points area of Lower Manhattan, indeed a slum and renowned as an area of crime and poor living conditions but hardly notably worse than similar areas in London and Paris at that time. The opening scene is a huge fight between two rival gangs set in The Five Points in 1846 involving Irish Catholic immigrants and the local WASPS (of native-born British , German and Dutch stock) referred to as “the Yankees.” How true to life is this?
Tyler Anbinder, a specialist in 19th Century American politics and a consultant for the film had this to say in an interview on the History News Network of NPR (December 23, 2002):
“Scorsese has over-dramatized the amount of bloodshed and death there would have been in a pre Civil War riot. There were a couple of riots like that one depicted in the movie between native born Protestants and Catholics in the neighborhood, but, at most, they resulted in a death or two, not the huge carnage you see in the scene.”
The film gets progressively worse in its infidelity to the truth
Scorsese, Oliver Stone and others have done the opposite, and created fictional accounts to portray American society in the worst possible light. The villain in the film called William Cutting a.k.a.”Butcher Bill” is the incarnation of evil. He leads the “Yankee gang” that dominates Tammany Hall and exploit the new immigrants at every turn. His main features are a glass eye and an astounding, uncanny ability to throw knives. In a close-up, we see that the glass eye is engraved with the American Eagle, long the symbol of American patriotism and etched on our banknotes and coins for generations. In Scorsese’s film, it represents everything immoral, corrupt and evil.
The pervasive influence of both JFK and Gangs of New York is apparent among many of the students I have encountered in teaching at American universities. These films are accepted by a majority of the students who have engaged in debates on many contemporary political issues in which the starting assumption is that the United States always takes the “wrong” side. I frequently have been able to discern that the students have seen these films and implicitly or subliminally accept the major underlying themes as “basically” historically accurate. We don’t have to look much further at why our youth is so misled or why Oliver Stone’s son has become a convert to Islam.
 “Henry Miller and the Pull of Gravity” in New English Review, November, 2010.
Norman Berdichevsky is a native New Yorker who lives in Orlando, Florida. He holds a Ph.D. in human geography from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1974) and is the author of The Danish-German Border Dispute (Academica Press, 2002), Nations, Language and Citizenship (McFarland & Co., Inc., 2004), Spanish Vignettes; An Offbeat Look into Spain’s Culture, Society & History (Santana Books, Malaga, Spain. 2004), An Introduction to Danish Culture (MacFarland, 2011) and The Left is Seldom Right (New English Review Press, 2011). He is the author of more than 200 articles and book reviews that have appeared in a variety of American, British, Danish, Israeli and Spanish periodicals such as World Affairs, Journal of Cultural Geography, Ecumene, Ariel, Ethnicity, The World & I, Contemporary Review, German Life, Israel Affairs, and Midstream. He is also a professional translator from Hebrew and Danish to English and his website is here.
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