Somebody on The Independent's copy desk loves wordplay, but wit does not always equal news. Consider "Alexander the (not so) Great fails to conquer America's homophobes," a breathless report by John Hiscock (in Los Angeles) and James Burleigh that says Oliver Stone's latest film has "brutally exposed the cultural and moral divide which slices America in two." Ouch!
The Hiscock/Burleigh report grants that the conspiracy-happy Stone is a controversial director, but concludes that still darker forces are at work in denying the auteur his rightful audience:
According to one online critic, Alexander is a flop because he is "as gay as a maypole." Christians considering seeing the film have even been urged to "speak to your pastors immediately because Satan is attempting to enter your mind."
By this report's standards, ham-fisted satire on Rotten Tomatoes' comments thread qualifies as holy writ among America's homophobic masses.
Then there is this note about poor Stone taking flak from both sides of the cultural divide:
At the other end of the spectrum, militant gay groups are condemning Stone for not being more explicit in his depiction of the gay love affair -- there is not even a kiss between Farrell and his co-star Jared Leto, while Alexander and his wife Roxane, played by Rosario Dawson, share a graphic sex scene.
Stone, no stranger to controversy after directing films including JFK and Natural Born Killers, has responded stoically: "I don't think it's hypocritical. As a dramatist, I wasn't interested in it because it was suggested from the beginning that they were lovers. I think it's all there. You don't have to rub it in the faces of the audience."
It's a beautiful day in Irony Land when Oliver Stone is the voice of artistic restraint.
A sidebar cites three other films that illustrate America's culture wars: Kinsey, Fahrenheit 9/11 and the ever-useful (if only slightly dated) Last Temptation of Christ (1988). All are examples of courageous cultural leftists facing harassment at the hands of know-nothing conservatives (The Passion of the Christ doesn't make the cut, for some inexplicable reason). In a reverse-order list of abuses worthy of the late Richard J. Daley (“They have vilified me, they have crucified me; yes, they have even criticized me"), The Independent reports that "Temptation was protested against, picketed, subjected to boycotts and bomb threats and excluded by the Blockbuster video chain."
In The Washington Post, Alan Cooperman writes that Focus on the Family and Concerned Women for America are using "more subtle, highbrow tactics" in opposing the Bill Condon's new hagio-pic, Kinsey.
Cooperman elaborates, providing a few helpful sneer quotes along the way:
Focus on the Family, the Colorado-based broadcasting empire of psychologist James Dobson, has been working for nearly two years -- ever since it learned that director Bill Condon was planning to make the film -- to enlist scholars outside the evangelical Christian community to help "debunk" Kinsey's research, Hamrick said.
Prominent among them is Judith Reisman, author of the 1991 book "Kinsey, Sex and Fraud." Citing her work, Concerned Women for America, the nation's largest women's group, has encouraged its members to go to theaters and politely hand out leaflets that accuse Kinsey, who died in 1956, of committing child sexual abuse as well as scientific fraud.
Kinsey was a "massive criminal" who cooked his statistical data and based many of his purported findings on interviews with convicted sex offenders, Reisman said in an interview.
On National Review Online, Frederica Mathewes-Green (a good and dear friend of this blog) shows how glibly Condon's film distorts one factual detail:
And then we see Kinsey showing [his wife] a book titled Ideal Marriage: Its Physiology and Technique. He opens it and reads a few sentences, which convey prissy objections to two common items of foreplay. Kinsey is enraged and says, "It's morality disguised as fact!"
You want to talk about facts? First published in 1926, Ideal Marriage was written by a Dutch gynecologist, Theodoor Van de Velde, and may be the best-selling sex manual of all time. Over half a million copies were sold in the United States alone, and it enjoyed equal success in Europe. On pages 169-171 of the 1930 Random House edition, Van de Velde takes up one of the items above, and describes technique at length. But rather than condemn it, he pronounces this activity "absolutely unobjectionable and legitimate, ethically, aesthetically, and hygienically" (italics his). The other is treated on pages 164-168, in much more explicit detail than anything the screen Kinsey tells his students. Van de Velde instructs husbands that if ministrations such as these are not sufficiently effective, it would be "both stupid and grossly selfish of the husband" to proceed to intercourse (his italics, again). This is not a prude's book. Young couples who grab a used copy off the Internet may have even as much fun with it as their great-grandparents did.
Buy your copies now -- including some from the dreaded 1950s -- before the rubes who refuse to see Alexander or Kinsey outlaw all such literature.