Two Small Problems

As an anarchist, I am often out of touch with fundamental modern beliefs about the world. Sometimes, though, I have problems believing little things that I'm supposed to find obvious. I'll give you three examples.

Since The Godfather there has been an endless string of mafia inspired movies. The latest one is Mickey Blue Eyes starring Hugh Grant. I enjoy Hugh Grant and the premise sounds amusing, but I wonder why the mafia is so acceptable among filmmakers. These organized criminals are portrayed sometimes as funny, sometimes as sensitive, sometimes as good family men. I wonder why Nazis have not been treated as three dimensional characters. Why don't we see Hitler as a tortured artist? How about all those raucous good times at Bergtesgarten? We never see comedies based on Colombian drug dealers. Someone has overlooked a gold mine of comedy there. Arab terrorists are never portrayed sympathetically. You'd think that such a deeply religious person as Bin Lauden would be the perfect subject for sensitive character study. Why don't we have movies showing us the inner workings of the KKK? Shouldn't we have a look at the human drama, the humor, and the warm family feelings? Don't you want to see Klan members in their lighter moments and explore their personal relationships? I don't understand why moviemakers have ignored so much promising material. I have a problem believing that mafia members are the only entertaining, sensitive, and amusing criminals around. Certainly, the world is full of delightful thugs.

I also have problems with Ally McBeal. In the first place, there is Ally McBeal herself. I like the way women look and my tastes have widened with age. After reaching 40 or so, I started to find Margaret Dumont appealing. When I look at Ally, though, I don’t even see a woman, I see sickness. There has never been another time in history when Ally would have been regarded as a sex symbol. As Falstaff asked, “Are Pharoah’s lean kine to be loved?” I suppose this is the natural result of having homosexual men define feminine pulchritude. Ally could represent a sort of gateway sexual object. Once you find her sexy, it is not a big step to lusting after boys.

I’m not a big fan of the show but I have watched a number of episodes with fascination. An important show element it the “unisex.” We are supposed to believe that hotshot lawyers would use a sexually integrated bathroom. Real lawyers (and their rich clients) would be horrified if they were asked to use a public bathroom, let alone a unisex. The show is loaded with sexual issues and titillation. It is often funny but it also tries to be thought provoking (I think). Some of its sexual material would have been fresh in the 60s but seems no more revolutionary to me than a Nehru jacket. The Beverly Hillbillies handled the same issues and it was funnier. I keep coming back to Ally herself. Her intellectual and emotional diet must be more meager than her food intake. She demonstrates her intellect only by parroting the cliches of her time. Her emotional life consists of tedious self-examination punctuated by various hallucinations. She displays incredible weakness, neediness, and unrealistic expectations of reality. I think we are supposed to see her as a woman of the 90s: a person young women can identify with and men would desire. If this is so, I can understand the soaring divorce rates. But maybe I don’t get it. Maybe Ally McBeal is one big satire of modern values. Maybe it’s as campy as Batman and I’m just not hip enough to see it.

There's another thing I don't understand. A warning label on a can of dipping snuff reads, "This product is not a safe alternative to cigarettes." A statement on a condom wrapper says, "If used properly, latex condoms are effective against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases." There is no scientific evidence that snuff has caused any serious disease. It probably has caused some cancers, but even so, its use is still far preferable to cigarette smoking. We are constantly told that it is impossible to end the kinds of promiscuous sex that cause diseases and that the best we can hope for is the use of condoms to decrease the spread of such diseases. It seems clear to me that it is equally impossible to stop tobacco use and so we should encourage the least harmful methods for employing it. Those who want to teach “safe sex” in schools would be appalled by instruction in “safe tobacco use.” (Given the record of public schools in teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic, instruction in sex education would probably lead to widespread celibacy.)

Ralph Nader's group worked hard to mandate warning labels on snuff. If we follow the logic of AIDS activists, we see that this warning label is killing people. If only one in a hundred people continues to smoke cigarettes because snuff "is not a safe alternative to cigarettes," the net deaths from tobacco use will be increased. There is ample evidence that people who count on condoms to protect them from disease are more at risk from disease than those who do not engage in risky forms of sexual activity. Using this fact, we could logically demand that condoms display a warning label, "The use of this product is not a safe alternative to abstinence." It would make as much sense for snuff to be labeled, "The proper use of snuff instead of cigarettes decreases the likelihood of serious diseases." These are small things but I don't understand them.