Thursday, March 01, 2007


This article was written by me around seven years ago in response to (now head of television at the ABC) Kim Dalton's preliminary report into the patchy state of Australian screenwriting. It was at the time lauded as an inciteful breakthrough into the problem. I begged to differ.

I tried publishing it in the two available magazines at the time: Inside Film and the now defunct Cinema Papers.

The editor of the latter told me that as it was an opinion piece and as I was nobody it didn't rate, so forget it. The editor at IF told me that I was misinformed. Neither bothered to comment on the veracity of the case I was trying to make. I could be thought self-interested and cynical but as both publications drew public money I reckon there was a fair amount of don't rock the boat behind the refusals. It didn't matter. I didn't get expect to get the piece published for that very reason. It was at the time my swan song to writing.

Anyway I recently dug it up and considering not much has changed I thought it worthwhile publishing as was. Apologies for anything out of date.

The film industry’s in crisis, or was. Five years since Pricilla, Queen of the Desert made a big splash in world waters the perception’s been that a string of youth-orientated ‘dark’ feature films have cost a lot and earned a virtual zilch. The ‘solution’, as always, comes in government-initiated bureaucratic action: an investigation into the crisis. Earlier this year the partial finding were given to the National Screenwriters conference: orally by AFC CEO Kim Dalton.

Development Practice in Australian Film Industry brims with charts, comparative percentages and allocated funding breakdowns. Its history, Dalton explains, starts with a report requested of the AFC by the Federal government in response to the film and television industry crisis. This report, presented to the minister in October last year, predictably denied a crisis, but indicated some ‘fundamental issues’. One such issue was script development. Hence eleven months down the track the newly appointed AFC CEO delivers a paper which is part of a ‘large scale investigation on development practice’ that is still incomplete.

Meantime the crisis in the Australian industry is over because we’ve abandoned the dark and gloomy phase and returned to the safer territory of ‘quirky’ comedy. Result: the industry is back in the black with several hits in 2000. All whilst the large scale investigation into industry practice continues, not yet delivered to the minister.

Although Dalton’s Development Practice paper has useful things to say there is a lot of padding and ill-drawn conclusion that say more. Firstly it is part of a still to be complete process responding to a crisis that’s past. Secondly the main thrust of argument is that Australian development practice is ‘inconsistent with world best practice’ yet its decision about what such practice constitutes is arbitrary and blunt. And third while it does articulate certain definite problems and implied solutions, it also makes a lot of assumptions based on premature conclusions and fails to get to the real heart of the problem: lack of quality writing.

To address these three criticisms in more detail

The length of time taken to respond to the crisis is typical of public sector practice. The public sector suffers from what I term the irony of accountability. This means that the public sector is rife with elongated processes and structures designed to ensure that public money is well spent. Ironically it is these processes and structures that gum up the works and cost far more than if the activity had been carried out in the private sector. With the protocols of public service to contend with, organizations like the AFC cannot respond immediately to industry ‘crises’ the way they would in the private sector.

As Dalton writes, the Australian industry is not run by large corporations, but by small production companies that can’t ‘fund film development profitably’. This necessitates public sector involvement and presents the problem that if development is in the hands of the public sector, that is: if the first step to writing a script is to apply for a government grant, then development might be slowed down by the same factors that slow activity in the rest of the public sector down.

The paper never considers the involvement of the public sector as a factor in development. It states that one reason for the fractured development process is the draft by draft assessment delay. That is development investment is subsequent to approval of a previous draft before investment in the subsequent draft can occur. The delay period is unspecified. But the paper does say that whilst writers are subject to a ‘three month delivery timetable’ the average development period is 4.8 years! If writers are required to redraft a feature script in twelve weeks why does the process take half a decade?

Elsewhere in the paper we read that the average development budget on a FFC feature film is $141 439 of which $79 234 was the writers fee! Given that development means paying someone to write a screenplay who gets the $62 205 left over?

Let’s leave these rhetorical questions to the conclusion and move on.

Development Practice is a paper that bases its authority largely on comparison between the domestic film industry and ‘world best practice’. Well what is world best practice? Hollywood and Europe of course!

As the paper acknowledges, the major US studios are the most ‘powerful and successful film businesses in the world’ so we must grant that they are strong contenders for world best practice. But why Europe? Or to put it better where is Asia? The US has the most successful film industry but India comes second as the only other entirely self-funded film business in the world. What about Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and China? Each of these industries has placed gems on the world stage these ten years past so why is France world best practice and Hong Kong not? And of all countries Canada probably resembles us most culturally and industrially, but there is no mention of it?

In addition to the rather arbitrary manner in which world best practice has been elected there is also the blunt tools with which Development Practice decides to dissect them. For example on page three we are told:

“in Hollywood, project selection begins with a decision by key people to work together, followed by a choice of a strong idea for the project.”

Does it?

Evidence from the annals of Hollywood anecdotes reveal that there are many ways in which a film can get realized.

Reservoir Dogs for example started as a project Quentin Tarantino was going to shoot self-funded on the fee he received for True Romance. Dumb and Dumber started with a script written by two outsiders who’d read Syd Field’s classic how-to text. Raging Bull started with Robert De Niro’s interest in boxer Jake La Motta. Star Wars started with George Lucas watching B picture sci-fi during the fifties. Movies made in Hollywood have various origination paths and there is no evidence that one generic method of arriving at a project is superior to another. Blunt statements like the one above assist no-one.

Then we get: Europe there has been a deliberate policy emphasis on teams working solidly on drafts until a project is as good as it is likely to get..

Exactly what does that mean? What does it tell us about the way European screenplays are written which could be of use? In ‘examining’ US and European screenwriting methods the paper makes blanket generalizations summarizing a vast and diverse array of practice into practically meaningless short paragraphs and never generating any evidence that links this or that method with success.

The two major conclusions drawn of comparison with US and European methods of development are these: one is that the percentage of applications we choose to fund are comparatively much higher and the second is we too-much favour the writer/director. The former is the major contribution of the paper and illustrates better than any other thing the comparative inefficiency of public sector development. In order to decide that funding 23.5% of applications is too high requires a report on industry crisis, a paper delivered to a screenwriter’s conference a year later and a ‘large scale investigation’ not yet completed. How many years must pass before a decision that could be made now will be made?

The other point is the predominance of the writer/director in Australian filmmaking. The report states that in Australia the writer and director are the same person 68% of the time, whereas in Hollywood this happens only 27% of the time.

Close examination of these statistics reveal these to be exaggerated conclusions. ‘In Hollywood’ means studio pictures. That is movies developed in-house by major US studios. ‘Studio’ is a misleading term that really means corporate subsidiaries that were studios in the days of the studio system. Most ‘Hollywood’ films are developed by smaller concerns somewhere in the huge latticework of various organizations worldwide that constitute ‘Hollywood’. According to the broader statistics in table four: the writer/director actually accounts for 54% of US films.

The comparison with Europe is similarly biased. For some reason in comparing films made by writer/directors with films made with separated roles the paper only indicates the UK where writer/directors account for 49% of movies made. The percentage would be, I’d wager, higher if figures for the other five countries considered elsewhere in the paper were also included here.

Somehow the writer/director issue is supposed to be a major factor in the relative quality of films made. But no evidence is presented demonstrating the relevance of this issue. There is an implied assumption that, if we encouraged role separation, Australian films would be more successful. US studios separate the roles, the US is successful therefore separation of roles leads to success. This is Ionesco’s comic syllogism: a cat has legs, Socrates had legs therefore Socrates was a cat.

A cursory examination of the last two years dispels the prejudice that writer/director films are commercially less viable. Consider Titanic, script and direction by James Cameron. Or The Blair Witch Project, history’s most profitable film, made by two men who did everything but act.

The paper concludes that:

we are taking too long to develop projects … allowing too many people to develop too many projects [so that] limited resources are being spread too thinly” and our “funding programs are favouring a combination of the auteur, the new and inexperienced while … asking them too choose from an unsustainably large producer community.

These fifty-four words are the essential argument of the twelve page address by Mr. Dalton. There are three basic points: too much project development is bad, too many producers are bad and inexperienced auteurs are bad.

The first point is a basic business observation that an adequate system would rectify with a simple memo not a large scale investigation and three or four papers presented to various conferences across the space of two or three years.

The problem of inexperienced auteurs presents two separate issues. According to the paper few first feature writers get two screenplays produced. Fewer still make it to three. Those that do, move on to others. The paper never examines cases of where one-time screenwriters fail to get another produced. Perchance was the first bad enough so why make two?

The auteur notion is supercilious. Writing and directing does not an auteur make. True many filmmakers considered auteurs do write and direct. But many don’t, Hitchcock for example. If Dalton is arguing that the powers that be shouldn’t regard a first time writer/director as an embryonic genius well that’s just common sense. But stating dogmatically that the writer of a script should not direct is as bad as saying that they should.

The unsustainably large producer community is neither here nor there. The paper says that statistics reveal 132 feature film production companies exist in this country but the trade directories state there are more. So what? Anyone can register a business and get some cards printed calling themselves ‘a film producer’. It doesn’t mean anything. Such activity entitles nobody to any money anywhere. If people insist on entering a crowded marketplace what are you going to do? Pass a law? Anyway, one hundred thirty-two production companies or one hundred thirty-two thousand production companies. It makes no difference to the quality of writing.

This is the real problem with the Australian film industry: the lack of quality writing. The one issue the paper makes very little attempt to address. Bad screenplays. One of the reasons that our most successful output is comedy is that comedy has a certain inherent quality control attached to it. It’s either funny or it ain’t. One cannot develop sociological/film theory based arguments to legitimize a comedy that isn’t funny. If it isn’t funny it doesn’t work. When we stray from comedy we get into trouble.

With writing, funding allocation is a lesser issue. Unlike just about all activities behind camera writing requires very little capital investment. To be a director, a producer, a production designer, a composer etc, one needs resources that might prove beyond the means of private individuals. An adequate word-processor and printer isn’t beyond the means of most people. The capital isn’t paramount, but the idea and the skills to bring it to fruition are. That is what’s missing. And it’s a problem that will never be solved by restructuring the subsidy system.

There are three things that can be done to improve the standard of Australian scripts.

The first it to reform the film industry’s public sector infrastructure so that its officers can make quick decisions and take risks like their counterparts in America, with the attendant penalties. That is make it more like showbusiness and less like policy development. Kill the committee.

The second is to replace esoteric theory with hard skills in universities. If first year film students were required to write a good film noir scene as opposed to an essay on Barthes’ view of film noir we’d have more good films and less boring conversations.

The third is to pay better. The paper states that writers get around $70 000 for four to five years work. McDonald’s pays better. And if you’re a really talented writer you can earn far more in advertising or in America.

There are many reasons that the United States has produced the world’s most successful films. Many of these have to do with industrial strangleholds on global distribution networks etc. But before it reached world dominance, America’s showbusiness culture had stringent standards best illustrated by Oscar Wilde’s anecdote about a wild-west saloon in the 1880s. He was amused that above the piano there was a sign, said: please don’t shoot the piano player he is doing his best.

Filmmaking is showbusiness. Hard, hard, hard! It’s not nice to shoot piano players but if you do, the rest play better.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


The films of Quentin Tarantino caused a stir back in the early nineties. In rapid succession he established himself as new and unique voice in American cinema: Reservoir Dogs, True Romance, Natural Born Killers and finally Pulp Fiction all displayed an idiosyncratic style that continues to mark later films like From Dusk ‘Til Dawn, Jackie Brown and Kill Bill Vols 1 and 2.

I remember as a film journalist having a couple brief differences of opinion with other people working for the then fledgling Inside Film magazine. One in particular with an editor who bluntly refuted my suggestion that he was a moralist: “He’s totally amoral”, she said, something like that anyway.

As Australian film criticism is essentially practical: is it a good film or alternatively how do you make a film. I never had an opportunity to elucidate my assertion. This piece attempts to do that.

Reservoir Dogs came to this country in ’93. One year out of the academy’s warm bosom I had a lot of trouble getting work and was still writing film reviews for student rags. During these few months the (arthouse) market was flooded with a fistful of independent and gun-crammed projects all tagged with critical superlatives about this or that writer-director’s claims to be Scorsese’s heir.

Mostly they were boring cliché plagued tripe riddled with the clumsy references that film schooled disciples of Godard mistook for cleverness. I began to hate the Thursday morning tedium of this stuff and sitting in the dark waiting for Reservoir Dogs to begin I was supremely jaded, irritated by the cheesy soundtrack pouring thru the sound system. Here we go. Another next Martin Scorsese. Not!

“What is this stupid fucking music.” I grumbled wishing I was somewhere, anywhere where I might get paid more than thirty bucks for the skills acquired thru years of education.

The cheesy shit was Harry Millson, from the first famous Tarantino soundtrack: he put de lime in de cocoanut and drank ‘em bot’ up....

The curtain rose and within thirty seconds I knew this was going be something different. Before the black switched to a picture you heard the voice of the man himself : “Let me tell you what “Like A Virgin’s” about. It’s all about a girl who digs a guy with a big dick.


I was paying attention.

Reservoir Dogs had everything: Tarantino’s pulp culture riffs, his cheesy-cool soundtracks, his off-colour sexual humour and the ultra-violence that is at once stylised and highly realistic. This is well-established.

Typical attitudes to his films are expressed by, say, Daniel Kane comparing Pulp Fiction to Titus Andronicus:

For example, in Quentin Tarantino’s film Pulp Fiction, atrocities are committed for a variety of barely articulated reasons, and time itself is subverted when characters we thought dead unexpectedly reappear in unannounced and unarticulated flashback sequences. The ‘point’ in Pulp Fiction seems to be pure stylization, where violence is presented as spectacle without an underlying moral message.

(from “The Virtue of Spectacle in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus” in Connotations.

Or again from the conservative National Review Online, Rich Lowry asks us to consider:

...the iconic film of the 1990s, Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. It includes a scene of the rape of a man imprisoned and kept as a sexual slave, which prompted laughs in theaters. The victim, 'The Gimp,' became a figure of fun. Tarantino's latest, the Kill Bill movies, present the same romance of power and violence, arbitrarily and stylishly wielded. Cruelty, Tarantino tells us, can be fun.

This is the standard take on Tarantino. He’s the visual gangsta rapper. Riffing off cool lines and spectacular kills for the blood-hungry. The thing is whilst that’s true the idea that the whole thing is a pointless exercise in visceral thrill is untrue.

So let me tell you what Pulp Fiction’s about. It’s all about three guys who do a good deed. But the deeds are unequal. In each story the hero puts in a righteous performance but his motivation for doing so and the nature of the deed ascends each time in its nobility.

The first three scenes of Pulp Fiction set up the nature of its moral universe. It’s a violent, selfish and decadent place. Pulp Fiction begins and ends in a restaurant. Two lovers discuss their future. It’s apparent that they stick places up for money. Despite this they’re genuinely in love and polite. The woman sincerely thanks the waitress for refilling their coffee. She smiles when the waitress corrects her lover’s cry of “garçon” ordering more. “Garçon means ‘boy’”, retorts the waitress, surly. A little snippet of the soul-destroying dignity assault of hospitality work, indicating perhaps the motivation of Pulp Fiction’s dramatis personae to their lives of crime. “What then day jobs?” asks the woman when the man insists they stop robbing liquor stores. “Not in this life.” he replies.

But liquor stores? Too risky he says. One of his objections is that although he doesn’t want to kill anyone the liquor store situation is going to end up putting them in a position where it’s us or them.

So he suggests restaurants. She likes the idea and spontaneously they hold the place up.

The next scene features two gentlemen discussing the finer points of European culture: “They’ve got the metric system they don’t what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is”, “in France you can buy a beer in McDonalds” and most especially “it’s legal to buy it, it’s legal to sell it, it’s legal to carry it but that don’t matter ‘cause get this. In Amsterdam it’s illegal for the cops to search you.” And for those who haven’t seen the flick (see it if you want to get this piece) the ‘it’ is hash.

They then discuss an anecdote about their employer having dropped an associate out a high story window for giving his wife a foot massage. They argue about whether a foot massage means something. Then they enter an apartment and proceed to slaughter people!!!!

Moral movie?? I’m nuts right?

Pulp Fiction is stuffed to the brim full of criminals. No-one in the entire movie is not somehow complicit in or associated with crime, betrayal, killing, all of the above. Not one of them live according to the codes of normal behaviour. No-one is innocent. This universe is a place of self-indulgence, lawlessness and naked power unchecked by modern ideas about justice. There is however a moral code. This code is made clear in the second scene of Pulp Fiction’s first episode.

Jules and Vincent walk into an apartment where three college-looking guys are eating breakfast. These guys, by appearances, actually do live in the normal world. But they’ve stolen something of Wallace’s and have hence crossed into the moral universe of Pulp Fiction. Far from immoral, this world is Old Testament. An eye for an eye: a world ruled by power.

In the American system of justice the accused has a right to defence, to reasonable doubt. The judge and jury will take into consideration extenuating circumstances. If condemned to die a prisoner has a long appeals process, a chance for clemency and at the very least a last meal. All denied to the college boys led by the big-brained Brett.

Jules enters, eats Brett’s hamburger, drinks Brett’s beverage and when Brett tries to explain “how fucked up things got between us and Mr. Wallace.” Jules answers by shooting his friend.

He then pronounces judgement. “You were saying something about best intentions?” He asks. Brett’s intentions don’t matter as they might in a modern court of law. There are no witnesses and no appeals. Jules recites the famous “Ezekial 25:17”:

The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you.

Then he shoots Brett to death.

The violence of this scene is not so much exhilarating as terrifying. Normal suburbanite types seeing this picture in their local multiplexes, air-conditioned and snack-stuffed, will identify with Brett and his friends. These are the closest any of the characters get to people they know. The others, plucked from the underground pantheon of American mythology, are beyond their experience of reality. These people are facsimiles of the violent world of crime that suburbia seems designed to insulate its inhabitants from. In the event that a nice, normal middle-class boy gets himself into trouble there’s always the expectation that he will be able to talk his way out of serious retribution. He’ll get a suspended sentence, a slap on the wrist or maybe some community service.

When Brett tries to enter into civil negotiations with Jules he gets no such indulgence. Jules replies: “My name is Pitt. And you ain’t talkin’ your ass outta this shit.

The essence of ancient justice: no mercy.

    The First Story: “Vincent Vega and Mrs. Mia Wallace”.

After hearing that Wallace threw Tony Rocky Horror out of a window for massaging Mia Wallace’s feet we get the idea that Wallace is the jealous type. Therefore Vincent, who Wallace has asked to take Mia out while he’s away on business, has reason to be nervous.

This story is a kind of musical sequence. Mia and Vincent meet and go to Jack Rabbit Slim’s a restaurant catalogue of 1950s simulacra: Buddy Holly the waiter, Ed Sullivan the MC etc. It’s the 1950s without the associated innocence, Vincent’s taken smack and Mia’s snorting coke. They hit it off and win the twist competition or at least get the trophy, later in the film a radio announces that it’s been stolen from Jack Rabbit Slim’s.

Back at her place the fun continues and Vincent wrestles with his conscience in the bathroom. This story resembles old chivalric romances. A knight motivated by unrequited (or at least Platonic) love for his Queen is motivated to perform all sorts of daring do. However in Vincent’s case the motivation is more self-preservation. Mistaking his heroin for coke she snorts it and overdoses. Vincent’s actions are the desperate and comical endeavours of a man who’s trying to avoid becoming a ‘grease spot’.

Anyone familiar with drug ‘culture’ particularly the sub-variety of smack enthusiasts would be amused to see the eagerness with which Vincent’s drug dealer and his wife strive to assist Vincent in this endeavour, not! Both of them are completely unconcerned for Mia’s welfare and simply want her out of their lives. This story illustrates the iniquities of the selfish. The omnipresent power of Wallace is their motivation, his power illustrated by Mia’s willingness to keep mum about the incident: “if Marcellus knew about this incident, I’d be in more trouble than you.” Vincent’s good deed is ultimately the one that saves his own arse.

    The Second Story: “The Gold Watch”.

The prequel to this story is Captain Koon’s monologue to the young Butch Coolidge. Koons presents Butch with his birthright, a gold watch first bought by his great-grandfather before setting sail to fight in World War One. The watch is passed from father to son in a series of wars until it finally reaches Coolidge via a period being concealed in the rectums of his father and Koons. The episode lifts the tone of the story from one of pure power and hedonistic indulgence to the realm of honour. Although the sense of honour isn’t delivered sans irony. Major Coolidge died of dysentery concealing the watch up his bum undermining the great chain of warriors story with toilet humour suggesting maybe the macho trip isn’t exactly what it thinks it is.

Then we see Butch start out of his dream-recollections. It’s the night of the fight. As we’ve seen by now Butch has been paid to take a fall. This mythological riff straight from the 30s is reinforced by his name ‘Butch Coolidge’ suggesting tough early 20th century American machismo is contradiction to his claim that in America names don’t mean shit.

He’s been paid to dive but he doesn’t. Instead he kills his opponent and jets in a cab. On the way to a motel on the outskirts of town he stops at a payphone and we know his motivation. He spread the word about the fix and then bet large on himself. He’s cleaned up.

He makes back to the motel where his girlfriend Fabienne is waiting for him. This is his soft spot. Tarantino described this character as basically an arsehole except when he’s with his girl. The next morning he shows us how true this is. Discovering that Fabienne’s forgotten to collect his gold watch and he throws a fit tearing up the room. He calms down and goes back to his apartment to collect the watch.

It’s here that the theme of this episode enters the picture. Honour. It’s not just a watch but a symbol. The original script describes an Olympic silver in Butch’s apartment. That isn’t important. The watch is. It’s the embodiment of his honour, his birthright. Thus he risks death going back to his flat to retrieve it.

It’s at his flat that the second theme of the episode comes into the picture: power. Power is never absolute. It’s relative to the situation. In the first scene in which Butch appears, he’s insulted by Vince Vega who’s higher up the food chain than Butch. The insults are unprovoked and undeserved. Vega’s just throwing his pecking order weight around and he pays for it.

Back in his flat Butch gets his watch and makes breakfast only to notice a machine gun on the counter. He picks it up as Vega comes out of the toilet. One wonders: if Vega’d been more polite would Butch’ve killed him. The question’s academic. Vega dies as he’s lived - by the gun.

The situation dictates the power. Butch gets into a fight with Wallace in a pawnshop run by the rednecked psycho Maynard. Maynard knocks ‘em out and both men end up trussed up, S&M style. Wallace is first selected for rape by Maynard’s dominant mate Zed.

Butch escapes but cannot leave Wallace to his fate. Honour. The honour is brought into high relief by his choice of weapon: hammer, baseball bat, chainsaw? No. This deed requires a weapon of comparable nobility: the katana.

Butch’s decision to rescue Wallace earns him a reward that he has no right to expect. He rescues his worst enemy out of a sense of justice. He has become “he who shepherds the weak thru the valley of darkness”. No reward is to be expected, it is, however, given. Wallace tells him: “there is no you and me. Not no more.” The good deed has been done but on a higher level. Butch performs the deed not for self-interest. He potentially risks the opposite. This is strictly an ‘in the name of charity and goodwill’ task. The essentially Christian motif: love thy enemy, is underscored by the fact that Wallace, is, for a short while anyway, the Weak. The most powerful cat in Pulp Fiction’s fucked-up world is also its most pitiable victim.

    The Third Story: “The Bonnie Situation”

This story brings around back in a circle. All of the action takes place, in ‘real’ time between the end of the first story’s second scene and it’s third. It climaxes back at the restaurant of the prologue.

We open up when Jules is giving his Ezekial 25:17 speech to Brett. But we’re in the apartment’s bathroom where another college boy is scared to death and wielding a huge gun: the legendary .357 magnum.

The boy bursts in on Vince and Jules and unloads on them hitting nothing. He gets blown away. Jules’ ally, the informant Martin, another preppie type albeit black is freaked out by the happening. Vince wants him to shut-up. This is all normal as far as the Pulp Fiction universe is concerned. What isn’t, is Jules’ revelation. He believes that he’s still alive because “God came down and stopped these motherfucking bullets”.

Vince doesn’t believe him. And the argument continues in the car where Vincent accidentally blasts Marvin in the face. At this moment we’re back in the amorality of the surface of the life in Pulp Fiction. Marvin’s death isn’t tragic. It’s funny.

Far from being upset about the loss of his friend Jules is simply concerned that they’re going to get caught: “Cops tend to notice shit like you're driving a car drenched in blood.”

They go to Jules’ friend Jimmy’s house and here the power relations are inverted once more. Jimmy, a suburbanite looking guy has the power. It’s his house. He tells Jules’ off: when you came into my house did you notice the sign out the front that says dead nigger storage? Jules, unflinched by white Jimmy’s use of the ‘N’ word replies: "No, I didn’t." Jimmy says: ”That’s right. ‘Cause it ain’t there. ‘Cause storin’ dead niggers ain’t my fuckin’ business!

Once again and for the rest of the flick Marvin’s death is comic. He simply doesn’t matter. Jimmy’s big concern is that he doesn’t want to get “fuckin’ divorced”. He’s not interested in the whys and wherefores of the dead nigger.

The story raps up with Winston Wolf helping to solve the problem. Vega, in this story demoted from hero to comic sidekick, is the essence of the buffoon. Having caused the problem, he exacerbates it by soiling Jimmy’s towels with blood and then objecting to Mr. Wolf’s curt orders.

But problem solved. The car is cleaned up and disposed of. The episode is a display of professionalism by Jules and Wolf as against Vince’s clumsy egotism. Morality is suspended for most of the third story. After Jules’ revelation Marvin gets shot creating the type of problem that crime has become organized to solve. Escaping retribution. However the theme of the story is resurrected when Vince and Jules have breakfast together.

The subject comes up when Jules gives his spiel about not eating pork. “Pigs eat and root in shit. I don’t eat anything that ain’t got sense enough to disregard it’s own faeces.” In reply to Vincent’s question about whether dogs, also eaters of shit, are filthy Jules makes the witty reply that dogs have personality and that a pig would have to be ten times more charming then Arnold on Green Acres to cease being considered a filthy animal.

The conversation then turns from light to serious.

Jules has decided to give up ‘the life’ and walk the Earth. Vince thinks this means he’s decided to be a bum: “without a job, a residence or legal tender that’s what you’re gonna be. A fuckin’ bum.” This alludes to the materialist aspect of morality that Tarantino would address in his next picture Jackie Brown: how can you be good when you have to make a living in a dirty world.

Nevertheless Jules means it and what happens next proves it.

‘Pumpkin’ and ‘Honey-Bunny’ hold up the restaurant. They go around collecting wallets and when they get to Jules he gives up his wallet but declines to let them have Wallace’s briefcase. The result is a Mexican stand-off with ‘Pumpkin’ held by Jules at gunpoint. Once again the power relationship has been inverted. ‘Pumpkin’ and ‘Honey-Bunny’, love-crazed armed bandits encounter a truly bad motherfucker. Ironically in their endeavour to rob restaurants thereby cutting down on the hero factor, they’ve stumbled into the face of a deadly hitman. Lucky for them he happens to be going thru a transitional phase.

He asks ‘Pumpkin’ if he’s read the Bible. Answering the predictable no, Jules recites Ezekial 25:17 confessing that he’d never given much thought to what it meant. Now he contemplates. Maybe your the righteous man and maybe I’m the shepard and it’s the world that’s selfish and evil.

Maybe we’re the good guys and the bad guys are out there. This is in essence the quasi-moral stand of so-many pseudo-religious fire and brimstone types in the world. Scores of them thump broadcast Bibles on Sunday morning for large cheques whipping their fans up into a frenzy of we’re the good and out there it’s them who’re the bad.

But as Jules says that shit ain’t the truth.

The truth is: “you’re the weak. And I’m the tyranny of evil men. But I’m trying Ringo, I’m tryin’ real hard to be the shepherd”.

This is the final and most noble deed. The act of mercy from the man who’s felt the touch of God and submits before Him. Having been confronted with his own mortality and been given a second chance contrary to the rules he’s always played by he switches from the Old Testament code of vengeance to the New Testament , American style. He who walks the Earth with a Bible and a gun. I can’t wait ‘til Tarantino makes the sequel.


People might argue with me. Yeah alright but that’s just Pulp Fiction. It’s just your interpretation man. I never said it wasn’t. I still think I’m right. Jackie Brown’s about a woman trying to make it in the evil world, Kill Bill’s about fundamental justice that is to say revenge and Reservoir Dogs?

Reservoir Dogs plays on the conflict between ethics and morality. The thieves’ code – don’t tell me your fuckin’ name – is broken by Mr. White out of empathy for his wounded comrade. Ethical codes are often set-up to counter the general human dictates of morality (think the obligations of a criminal defence attorney). The thieves’ code is set up to ensure that operations go smoothly with minimum risk of incarceration.

White breaks the thieves’ code and goes so far as to challenge his boss’s correct surmisation that Mr. Orange is an undercover cop. The film climaxes with Orange breaking his own code to tell White the truth resulting in their deaths.

Honour, codes and morality are constant themes in Tarantino’s work. They lie under the surface of the ‘ain’t it cool’ exterior. I don’t mean to say Tarantino sets out to write moral stories necessarily. He’s an intuitive artist who follows his own notions of what’s cool, deploying a pastiche style suggested by Godard and filled by the realm of video store titles untrammelled by a University lecturer’s notions of good taste. To Tarantino Pierout Le Fou is the same as Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Love Song or Enter The Dragon. His approach to movies is the same as his approach to music. His taste is the naive discrimination of the autodidact.

But movies are stories. They follow the same thematic motifs of stories throughout time. Thru them we work on the contradictory questions of life. What is good and what is bad. How do we make our way uncorrupted in a corrupt world. The biblically inaccurate Ezekial 25:17 passage in Pulp Fiction actually comes from a Sonny Chiba film. Tarantino understands movies and hence he understands their themes. His movies do for the modern audience, stripped of its innocence by media, what more wholesome fare did for our forebears.

Sure violence in his films is cool. It’s fun. This is a fact that crusaders for moral cultural products refuse to confront. The world isn’t like a Frank Capra movie and we know that now. You can’t bullshit us. In response to the accusation that gangsta rap makes crime look glamorous the consumate, original gansta rapper Ice T. once retorted: that’s because it is.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


There is a war between the left and right
A war between the black and white
A war between the odd
And the even.

“There is a war”
Leonard Cohen

Sometimes I don't speak too bright
but yet I know what I'm talking about
Why can't we be friends?

“Why can't we be friends?”

I first became aware of blogwar when I received two comments at my blogger site. One was from Iain Hall (whom I’d never heard of) paying me complements on my earlier piece re. cultural studies, the other was from ‘bourbon-boy’ who informed me that Iain’s plug was the ‘kiss of death’.

Now up ‘til that point I’d pretty much ignored the blogsphere. I started this as a way of getting over an entrenched and prolonged block. It never really occurred to me that there were a million blogs out there all expressing political views and that the heat of normal political debate manifested in cyberspace also.

Anyway so I looked up Iain’s blog and was pleasantly surprised to see that he was a conservative. This is because tho’ I’m not I think it important to be able to communicate across the battlelines of the political spectrum. Ideology often acts as an inhibitor to the exchange of ideas. Ideas, ideologically organized, are soldiers in an army. One army fights the other. It doesn’t matter that some ideas are worthy and some not so much so. It matters not likewise that if this army’s idea were combined somehow with the idea from that army good might result. What matters is defeating the enemy?

I think this a problem.

The necessary precursor to accomplishing inter-ideological ceasefire naturally is to get them to listen. If a conservative liked my stuff then I was at least getting them to listen.

I then went to bourbon boy’s site, known as HALLWATCH. This site is dedicated to shitting on Iain Hall!!! I thought this a bit strange as Hall is not a major media figure exactly, he’s a bloke who blogs. Still HALLWATCH is dedicated to tearing old Iain a new arsehole. It’s not so much a debunking of his views (like Boltwatch) but simply an all out effort to humiliate the guy.

An example of the kind of thing you get there is:

This is a good example of just what an arrogant fuckwad Iain is, when I read stuff like this then I feel no guilt about running Hallwatch and focusing on this big mouthed rural jerk off from Queensland (where men are men and women are usually men too.)

According to Bourbon-boy: “HALLWATCH represent a growing trend of decent bloggers who are unhappy with Iain and his actions on the Net.” Bourbon-boy has a small crew who all express the view that the man deserves to be skewered with a scud missile. It’s funny in a playground fashion. But there’s the inevitable hypocrisy. HALLWATCH a site objecting to the bad ethics of one Netizen responds with comparable tactics. For example: Bourbon-boy accuses Iain of being, amongst other things, a stalker however he continually makes reference to Iain’s personal life!

There’s a whole history involving Iain’s crew and Bourbon-boy’s crew going way back to I don’t know. I won’t go into it because I don’t want to get into it. If you guys are reading this I am not taking sides. For others if you want to check it out, check it out.

But I must ask: if Hall is so evil why doesn’t he just write him off, block his commentary ignore him? What is the point?

This sort of stuff’s all over the place. Consider an otherwise sober site (that shall be nameless here). Normally the debate’s quite civilized. But there’s been a running rant/counter-rant between two gentlemen (also to go un-named) who, I guess, purport to be scientists arguing about climate change. The following is a selection of their oratorical eloquence:

Give us one in your own words liar.

“Bird-brain, Have you actually read Lomborg’s book?”

You dirty-homo?

What award are you going for. Jack-ass of the year 2007?

Fuck you, you filthy faggot.

You are blowing hot air out your arse,

Bird-brain. Of course I’ve read Lomborg’s book stoopid, whereas you obviously haven’t. You should learn to shut your fat gob when you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Since you have an intellectual capacity inferior to slime mould it would be pointless providing you with evidence. Now why don’t you go to the gym and shed some more of the disgusting walrus blubber that insulates your repulsive person
Get to it fatso- run, run run! .

Now I suspect that these guys really enjoy shitting on each other. I reckon they look forward to it all day (do Bourbon-Boy, Iain Hall and co?). But as much fun as this is - I have learned nothing from it.

In a recent interview for Esquire biochemist James Watson stated that he’d “turned against the left-wing because they don’t like genetics, because genetics implies that sometimes we’ll fail in life because we have bad genes. They want all failure in life to be due to an evil system.” (Esquire “What I’ve Learned” Jan 2007 p. 90). Indeed this underlies in terms of Watson’s own field the problem many have with the left these days; the dogmatic adherence to allocate a social explanation for everything.

Elsewhere Watson says that “new ideas require new facts.”

But new ideas require more than new facts, they require the capacity to face them. New facts can be unpleasant. Genetics as Watson (a formerly left-leaning Democrat of the libertarian mould) poses facts unpleasant for those of us with egalitarian ideals. But facts are facts. For those of us who enjoy our cars arguments for the necessity of drastically reducing human carbon emissions might also be unpleasant.

Much of that argument at present between scientific camps as between journalists, politicians and others is a wrangling between world-views that select facts to suit themselves. This is potentially disasterous either way. To drastically reduce emissions means reducing growth implying unemployment and the perpetuation of pre-modern lifestyles for much of the world; to do nothing when action is required to avoid catastrophe is likewise potentially lethal.

We need facts and solidarity not devisive point-scoring. The same thing I’d suggest goes for terrorism. The left taking the knee-jerk oppositional stance to the chauvanistic posturings of the US administration take the view that one should side (or at least sympathize) with al-Qaeda. Absurd!! This is an organization which would like to sweep aside most of the social progress that Western leftists have fought for over the last two hundred hears or so.

That’s not to let the right off the hook so easily. There’s a whole catalogue of discourse that vilifies Muslims as barbarian hordes all too eager for war. Ironically enough much of this vitriol is expressed in barbarian war-mongering terms. Either/or. Either kill ‘em or go to bed with ‘em. It never occurs to either side that al-Qaeda might actually piss off a lot of Arabs. For a ‘left-wing’ Palestinian who hates terrorists check this out.

This “Jew-hating terrorist" devotes time and money to the following anti-Semitic endeavours:

I just got off the phone with a good friend of mine that was on my Thesis Committee (A 75 Year Urban City Plan for Jerusalem). He is the Rabbi of the third oldest congregation in America. He liked the idea a lot and is not only willing to help but thinking of coming himself. If anyone else would like to come or help shoot me an email.

Following in the footsteps of a very courageous idea, we are going to begin funding the temporary swap of Arab and Israeli bloggers… Let me explain. Rabbi Belzer is the founder and vp of an organization in Ireland that brings Palestinians and Israelis together to develop understanding… a beautiful objective.

The project’s called “meet your cousin”. What a barbarian!! And being against the death penalty (unusual for a bloodthirsty Palestinian I guess) here’s his reaction to the death of a leading al-Qaeda figure: Burn in Hell: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Oh!!! What?

You “learned” ladies and gentlemen from either end of the political spectrum in this most “civilized” and Christian Commonwealth of Australia this attitude doesn’t exactly compute. Does it? Here’s a Palestinian (and a critic of Zionism) who doesn’t like terrorists and is friends with Rabbis!

See? The world is not that simple. What makes it simple is people who reach for one piece of information with which to explain a complex issue and then roll it up and spend the rest of their lives beating others ‘round the head with it. To those of you inclined to do this I’d just like to say, quietly, over a quiet afternoon cup (doesn’t have to be latte or even coffee): I’M SICK OF YOUR FUCKING SELF-RIGHTEOUS RANTS!!

Just quietly.

The scientist vs. scientist diatribe above concerned the famous “skeptical environmentalist” Bjørn Lomborg who, as I recall was spat upon at Oxford for debunking some environmentalist claims. Lomborg had originally been trying to debunk a conservative assertion that most of the problems cited by ecologists in the 1970s had been favorably dealt with. The environmental lobby had vigorously refuted this. Lomborg suspecting they were right set out to attack the conservative position. He found that it was the environmentalists who were wrong about a lot of things. How much I can’t say because Lomborg’s research has also been questioned. He did as I remember state that global warming was still a major problem.

The veracity of Lomborg’s research is immaterial. What is relevant here is the reaction of environmental activists. They attacked him for disproving their propaganda. My perspective at the time was why? He seems to have shown that we can deal with whatever environmental damage we have caused. Surely this is a good thing.

For many environmentalists (and I wasn’t at the time much concerned with those sorts of things) Lomborg’s book was good news. A lot of the opposition came from people so dedicated to the fight, to the hatred of the other side that they considered him a traitor. This is not to infer that environmentalists are a pack of liars. They aren’t. But there are liars and fools on both sides of the fence: left and right.
Pertinent to twentieth century issues this might pass. But the twenty-first century is potentially both a much more dangerous place and a much better place. Terrorism. Environment. Peace and sustainability. Stakes are high. If we win, we really win and if we lose...

In the process of winning a never-ending rhetorical battle we lose the capacity to absorb the new facts that they might present. I believe the growing rift between the left and right and the corresponding loss in capacity for self-criticism, reflection and old fashioned courteous listening is dangerous, literally. It's not like we can ever be a big happy circle dancing around to the same tune. Our taste in music is different. But we can endeavour to be a tad more respectful. Surprisingly it doesn't cost much.

What is required now is a putting aside of the bulky twentieth century dogmas and prejudices. Begin again with basics. What was it you really believed in again. What’s going on? Truly. And, that old and timeless classic...

What is to be done?

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Now I’m not much of a philosopher but I’ve been having this problem with ideology lately. I mean: what the hell am I?

I’m not a socialist because I don’t think you can run an entire economy like the Department of Public Works without rendering reality a greywash’d yawn stuffed full of a million unnecessary forms.

On the other hand I don’t think that just ‘cause you’re born rich you should have carte blanche access to the best education and career paths. And, let’s face it, that’s exactly where this country’s heading. The argument comes: well if you’re poor and smart you can get a scholarship.

Why should you have to? Why should some Toorak dumbass become a barrister just ‘cause her/his daddy/mummy was and so on back to viscosity? My view: if you have the brains to be nothing but a bull-wanker then be a bull-wanker regardless your place on the social register.

And more: if you’re rich and you get a rare disease you have access to the best medical care. If you’re poor, then sorry your policy doesn’t cover it - kindly fuck off and drop dead. Why? How is that justice?

So in that respect I am a ‘socialist’.

But wait. If I want to start up some kind of business I really don’t see why I have to get permission to do so from some state authority. Sure if I’m feeding people or delivering their babies there are standards to be met. But what if I’m just offering to ghost-write their life stories. Is that anyone’s business save that of me and my client?

Hell no.

Maybe I’m a capitalist.

So I started taking some online tests. I mean that’s gotta be reliable yeah? These days they have this nifty new map structure. One such, the political compass, rightly asserts that:

The old one-dimensional categories of 'right' and 'left', established for the seating arrangement of the French National Assembly of 1789, are overly simplistic for today's complex political landscape. For example, who are the 'conservatives' in today's Russia? Are they the unreconstructed Stalinists, or the reformers who have adopted the right-wing views of conservatives like Margaret Thatcher ?

Furthermore in Stalin’s day were his rigid supporters conservatives? After all Stalinism was the status quo. So were those opposed to him ‘left-wing’?

It’s a funny old world.

People and systems don’t fit neatly into categories. And as the site asks: “how do you distinguish leftists like Stalin and Gandhi?”

The quiz presents you with a map divided by two axes. Along one is the standard left-right economic criteria: government control, intervention, moderation, laissez-faire. The other axis regards personal freedoms: free speech, sex, etc. I guess we can call these the capitalist-socialist axis and the authoritarian-libertarian axis.

In the centre territory there is a circle representing the intersection. On some political tests this central territory is labelled ‘centrist’ on those sites obviously pushing a libertarian barge this territory is labelled ‘statist’.

Questions differed from test to test but I pretty consistently scored on the libertarian side and slightly to the left of the capitalist-socialist axis. I’ve been classified a moderate, liberal or left libertarian.

This would alter depending on the questions some of which were specific to another country (eg the US), some of which were irritating either/or scenarios. My favourite in this latter category is:

What do you think is more important?

A/ Controlling inflation.
B/Controlling unemployment.

Well as they’re inter-related aspects of the economic cycle they’re both important. High inflation leads to high unemployment which ‘cause no-one’s got nothing to spend tends to bring prices and wages down so then they get jobs and start spending and the prices go up and around we go again. And of course that's only the way it works in Grade 10 economics textbooks.

How ‘bout option C: Thinking one’s important and the other isn’t, is dumb. There was no such option C.

Another example of this is on the Liberal Democratic Party’s site. Question two of the ‘social’ side of the test asks:

2) What should the governments role be with regards to issues of sex such as prostitution, pornography, sexual orientation etc?

a. There should be no laws with regards to issues relating to sex
b. Pornography, prostitution and sexual choice should be allowed and slightly regulated
c. Some pornography, prostitution and sexual choice should be allowed, but slightly discouraged
d. Some pornography and sexual choice should be allowed, but discouraged
e. There should be strict laws banning prostitution and pornography and controlling sexual choice.

Okay I picked option b. But that’s not exactly what I meant. Pornography, prostitution and consenting sexual choice are different things. In the case of the latter, it’s the business of lovers who’s loving the government and everyone else butts out.

Pornography? Well some people don’t like it and some do. Therefore I believe that you should be able to get it if you want it but you should likewise be able to avoid it if so inclined. That’s one aspect for regulation there are others: no kids, no chainsaws.

In the case of prostitution you are dealing with an industry that can and does become very ugly if unregulated. So, whilst I’m inclined to let business be business, in the case of prostitution and other industries where the absence of regulation is disastrous I think maybe um... some rules.

But the point is given multiple choice answers to decide your politics is an over-simplistic guide to ideological (read doctrine driven) thinking. I'm, therefore I believe a, b, and c are good and x, y, and z are bad - always no matter what. This way of thinking, or avoiding thinking, is something I'm deeply allergic to. Just writing about makes me feel itchy.

You can tell you're slipping into this trap when you answer every question in reference to someone who never really had a job: Marx said this, Hayek said that, Chomsky said so and so but Foucault says blah blah blah and Nietzsche etc. Not to impune the work of these gentlemen but remember:


So the test, or mode of tests is not exactly bullet-proof. I’m not trashing it just saying you can take a much more nuanced stand on something particularly if you know whereof you speak. And remember: mostly you don't - there are questions that baffle. The first question on the aforementioned quiz relates to how much government control of what percentage GDP. There was no option X: How the fuck would I know?

Still it's really useful to be able to summarise my myriad and oft contradictory thoughts with two words. When I go to parties and people ask my politics I can say I’m a left libertarian.


Now no-one will like me.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


Politics is war fought by other means.

I remember this oft quoted axiom (from Prussian general and strategist Carl von Clausewitz) being cited by one of my more intimidating university lecturers in conversation with a colleague of mine at a book launch one Friday afternoon. The colleague had had the misfortune to involve herself in campus politics during a rather savage era and had that bitter emptiness that often ensues. War, the lecturer continued, is easy to make. It’s peace that’s difficult.

Difficult indeed. How difficult? Here we are the world at the brink of a possibly global catastrophe caused by of all things religion. Who’d have thought in this most secular, technological and humanist of ages that the medieval mentalities that prevailed for almost a millennia prior to the dawning of the modern era would reassert themselves in such a fierce and uncompromising manner.

Of course it’s really about territory. When the layers of self-righteousness are removed all wars are about territory (and/or resources). In this case the so-called Holy Land has once again taken centre stage. This article does not pretend to offer magical solutions. There are none. The agreed upon solution – the two state idea - is generally thought to be right one but the parties involved will not stop shooting and bombing each other long enough to give it a chance. When there is a calm moment someone finds a way to sabotage it and snatch conflict from the jaws of peaceful co-existence.

This article seeks instead to illustrate the obtuse attitudes that are pervasive when it comes to this conflict. My way of doing this is to examine the variety of things said regarding the film Munich.

I chose this film for three reasons.

First: the kidnapping and subsequent assassination of eleven Israeli athletes, the film’s starting point, is generally regarded as the watershed in which the Israel/Palestine conflict morphed from conventional territorial conflict to that form of barbaric guerrilla warfare known as ‘terrorism’.

Secondly the film is by a Zionist liberal Jew: Steven Spielberg who made it in an attempt to bring understanding to the terrible cycle of bloodshed and thereby contribute to bringing the whole nasty business to an end.

Third: I haven’t seen it and therefore don’t have an opinion as to the film’s impartiality nor it’s success or failure in accomplishing what it sets out to do. The film for my purpose is not important. What is interesting is the fact that so many mutually exclusive points-of-view have been expressed about it.

For the purposes of this article the term Zionist denotes any person who supports the existence of Israel regardless of their political stance otherwise. Pro-Palestinians are likewise persons who tend to side with the Palestinians.

Are these people watching the same film?
Let's start with Messrs. Massad and Krauthammer:

Charles Krauthammer complains in The Washington Post that the“ … Palestinians who plan the massacre and are hunted down by Israel are given — with the concision of the gifted cinematic craftsman — texture, humanity, depth, history.” (Krauthammer “Munich, The Travesty”,Washington Post Friday, January 13, 2006; Page A21).

Alternatively Joseph Massad argues that “Spielberg … humanizes Israeli terrorists in Munich but expectedly not the Palestinian terrorists who are portrayed as having no conscience. It seems that unlike their Israeli counterparts, Palestinians shoot but do not cry! (Massad, “Munich or Making Baclava” cited in The Electronic Intifada, 3 February 2006).

Krauthammer says the Palestinians are humanized. Massad says they are dehumanised. Who’s right?

It seems on both sides of the debate there is a problem with the portrayal of the humanity of the ‘other’. Most writers argue either that Munich doesn’t take sides or it takes the wrong side. New York Times columnist David Brooks, for example, says that “by choosing a story set in 1972, Spielberg allows himself to ignore the core poison that permeates the Middle East, Islamic radicalism. In Spielberg’s Middle East, there is no Hamas or Islamic Jihad. There are no passionate anti-Semites, no Holocaust deniers like the current president of Iran, no zealots who want to exterminate Israelis. There is, above all, no evil.” (Brooks “What Munich Left Out” New York Times Dec 11 2005).

On the other side As’ad AbuKhalil thinks that Munich “could easily have been a paid Israeli advertisement for its killing machine. In fact, it could be a recruitment movie for Israeli killing squads. It is a celebration of Israeli murder of Palestinians. When Israelis kill, it is always moral, and always careful, and always on target.” (AbuKhalil “Munich: Spielberg’s lies and cover-ups” For AbuKhalil there is evil, Munich promotes it.

These people are so divided they are incapable of seeing the same film. The film is filtered through an extensive prejudgement process before the thinking starts.

On the blog the writer a self-proclaimed psychotherapist and admirer of Freud, Jung and Adler compares Munich to Hirschbiegel’s The Downfall, a film that depicts Hitler’s last days in the bunker. The blogger objects to this film because it attempts “to portray Adolph Hitler in a human, albeit flawed, light.” Somehow this strategy is supposed to let the German people off the hook for letting the bastard take over.

Having seen that film and corresponding documentaries covering the same subject I have to say the film is a pretty good portrayal of what was happening in that place at that time. That is that supporters of the maniac Nazi command were confronted with the irrefutable truth that these people were ultra-selfish death worshipping psychos. But yes Hitler in The Downfall is human. Hitler in real life was human. Unpleasant but a fact nonetheless. Terrorists and assassins likewise are also human.

But this is the problem that the writer has. For him “Munich attempts to give credibility to a failed, destructive and evil society and indeed, what is an evil and failed culture.” It is not simply terrorists and/or their acts that are evil but the entire society itself. Palestinian Arabs are evil, their culture and society is evil.

So for Zionists Munich fails because it fails to grasp the inherent evil perpetrated on the Jewish people by Arab terrorism. However on the pro-Palestinian side as mentioned Munich fails for exactly the opposite reason. According to Canadian writer/filmmaker Julian Samuel Munich is racist the way D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation is racist: “Palestinians have become [for Spielberg] what blacks were for Griffith: Dark, threatening creatures to be eliminated with extreme prejudice.” (As cited on

I must add that it’s misleading to infer that all the Zionists I canvassed were critical of the film. Heather Robinson believes that “Munich depicts civilized, decent men who can–and do–give the terrorists what they have coming.” (Robinson "What’s Right With Munich" 8/2/06). The overwhelming majority however, did.

Palestine and Israel: Morally Equivalent?
Many on both sides find fault with the film not for its partisan stance but it’s moral equivalency Colin Andersen on the same website argues that in regards to the Israel/Palestine conflict “we’re dealing not with a level playing field, but another variation of the clash between a European colonial-settler movement, in this case Zionism, on the one hand, and an indigenous non-European people, the Palestinian Arabs, on the other.” (Andersen "Munich and moral equivalence", 2/2/06 )

For Andersen the evil is Israeli (read European imperialist) aggression. He calls the Palestinians indigenous but makes no mention of the fact that Jews occupied that territory until Vespasian came along. Nor does he explain how a people who have been displaced, marginalised, enslaved and nearly slaughtered by various European states can be described as agents for European imperialism. Kate Wright argues the same way from the opposite direction. Her article includes a catalogue of associations between Nazism and the Arab world that predate the establishment of Israel and concludes “Spielberg seems convinced by moral relativism, the position that there is no comprehensive moral truth or truth value, that only personal subjective morality, deriving from social convention is truly authentic”. Ms. Wright doesn't consider the possibility that the advocacy of peace can be a cornerstone of moral truth.

And let's not forget: love thy enemy. Who said that? Jewish lad I believe.

Both Wright and Andersen have the same problem with Munich; it, they think, equates the Palestinian and Israeli position each as morally equal and they are not. Mr. Andersen believes it obvious that the Palestinians occupy the moral high ground and Ms. Wright believes the opposite!

So Zionists in general condemn the film because either it’s pro-Palestinian or it sits on the fence. Those pro-Palestinian condemn the film likewise as either an advertisement for Israeli aggression or again because it sits on the fence. What does this demonstrate?

Well as someone who pays some attention to Middle East ‘developments’ it demonstrates the hopelessness of the situation is due to the utter refusal of both parties to understand that the other side might have some justification for their beefs and furthermore the use of violence will precipitate return fire.
On those rare occasions when I see advocates of Palestine and Israel on the same show stating their case the result is always the same. Confronted by draconian measures against Palestinian civilians the Israeli spokesperson will change the subject to Hamas and suicide bombers. Asked about suicide bombers and the anti-Semitic stance of organizations like Hamas the Palestinian always changes the subject to Israeli policy.

It’s always their fault.

Each side believes the only way forward is for the other side to relinquish its stand and take sides with the enemy against the militant parts of their own people. This situation is exacerbated because the unreason is infectious. Throughout the Western world one cannot discuss the subject without someone frothing at the mouth: a situation made painfully obvious in the Munich discourse.

Consider the partisan historical analysis brought into play.

The aforementioned Ms. Wright for example cites Jerusalem’s “Grand Mufti … inciting violence against Jews through the 1920s, and as Nazism spread through Europe, Jews fled to Palestine.” And the Arab’s “next move … to make overtures to Adolf Hitler”. But she makes no mention of Likud’s overtures to the Nazi high command in the same period to give them client sovereignty over Israel.

Many pro-Palestinian writers cite the Lillehammer affair in which the Moroccan waiter Ahmed Bouchiki was shot whilst on holiday in Norway because he was mistaken for a PLO operative. They are outraged at the death of an innocent civilian but do not comment on the morality of shooting Olympic athletes.

David Brooks criticises Spielberg for choosing to portray an events that took place in the early 70s because then one avoids the anti-Semitism of modern Arab organizations like Hamas. He fails to mention that that is because these organizations were not anti-Semitic at the time. Until relatively recently there was a clear distinction made between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism which is now sadly forever smudged. He fails also to ponder whether anti-Semitism would be such a feature of contemporary thinking in the Muslim world if Israel’s actions had been different. Indeed by declaring anti-Semitism the Middle-East's "core poison" he is inferring that Arabs are primarily motivated by Nazi ideology. The legitimacy of Palestinian objections is discarded.

The racial politics of Europe are not the racial politics of the Middle East. Arab leaders like Anwar Sadat admired Hitler in the 1930s not so much for his racial theology but because he stood up to the British Empire which controlled Egypt at the time. Sadat also admired Ghandi whose philosophy was mutually exclusive with Nazism. The Holocaust denials and anti-Semitic diatribes of many in the Muslim world might be the very unfortunate result of the simple dictum: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. This has become tragically comic with events like Iran's holocaust denial conference attended and addressed by characters like KKK Imperial Wizard David Duke.

Moral relativism again? No, the opposite of moral relativism. Each side is attempting to assert moral absolutism. Iran has conducted a holocaust denial conference in order to undermine Israel's claims to legitimacy. From the other side comes the assertion that the Arab world consists of, in the words of a recent blogsphere commentator, "fascist monsters". Around and around it goes. According to the pro-Israel camp the Palestinians and their alllies are Nazis, according to the pro-Palestine camp it's the Israelis who are the Nazis. If I was visiting Earth from outer space I'd think the whole situation laughable. But I'm human and humans are killing other humans. It's not funny.

I'm not sure questions of moral relativism are constructive. If one excludes the mandate of God one is left with a case of ironic historical tragedy. Jewish people, persecuted in Europe, try to escape this by setting up a country in their traditional homeland. Can one who was not tortured maniacally by the Nazis during the 30s and 40s sit in judgement on the people who migrated to Palestine determined to find refuge from persecution?

I cannot and do not.

However there were people living there and the results are that they have been marginalised and oppressed within their own country. The notion that Palestinians can simply become citizens of one of the neighbouring Arab countries has been rendered nonsense. Most such countries have consistently refused to grant the Palestinians citizenship.

In this case the either/or scenario is simply wrong. The establishment of Israel cannot simply be written off as another case of European colonialism. The problem in the first place was that Jewish people were not accepted as European. Neither can the Palestinians be expected to pay the price for the Holocaust. They were not there, they didn’t do it regardless of whatever contact Hitler may have had with Arab leaders.

Evil deeds may have resulted (by and upon both sides) but one cannot write one side off as completely and irretrievably reprehensible. If that were the case it would be easy. I suspect the reason for so much selective myopia is probably that people want a clear cut case and the simplest way to accomplish that is simply to ignore the wrongs wrought by ‘our’ side and amplify those of the ‘other’ whilst simultaneously ignoring whatever good case one’s enemies might have and emphasising one’s own righteousness.

The reactions to Munich amply demonstrate these phenomena. There were of course praises for the film’s brutal honesty. Mostly these came from writers of the disinterested liberal sort. Persons with no connection to the conflict. But one commentary did give me reason to believe that perhaps peace is not impossible.

Karim Elsahy contemplates the reason for the fighting:

“people on my side are fighting for what they lost. Fighting for a home, a land, and self determination”. [But the] “same goes for the Israelis. If I were a Jew I probably would have been just as adamant about Israel. A chance to live under their own rule after millennia of Diaspora and persecution?”

“What if we (the Arabs and the Jews) were the ones that didn’t get it? Securely wrapped in the confidence of our own self-virtue what if we are the ignorant. What if there really is nothing worth fighting for.” (Elsahy Munich 12/1/06)

Well maybe Spielberg got thru to someone after all.

Saturday, January 06, 2007


I recently watched a completely uninspiring video teacher’s aide in which two dreary, yet earnest looking persons discussed To Kill A Mockingbird in that phlegmatic secondary school manner which puts people off Shakespeare for life: it’s boring but for reasons I can’t explain you need to know it. There was the man and the woman: and like all good lefties he gave the ‘Marxist’ reading, she: the ‘feminist’ one.

These “Marxist” and “feminist” reading consisted of not particularly acute observations of gender/class relationships in Depression era Maycomb, Alabama - as presented in To Kill A Mockingbird. For example: the distinction between the deserving/undeserving poor (The Cunninghams and the Ewells respectively) being grounded in the fact that the former did not receive welfare whilst the latter did. The ‘Marxist’ made a big deal of this as if the whole point of Harper Lee’s book was a propaganda exercise for critics of the welfare state.

Why these and the equally uninspiring ‘feminist’ observations should be labeled as such is beyond me. Perhaps left-wing teachers are convinced that they will fill their pupils with radical notions and thus change the world. They seem to have forgotten the natural antipathy of adolescence to their elders’ beliefs. If they truly want to make them leftist radicals they’d be better off preaching Milton Friedman.

It is precisely these labels that will make ‘left-wing’ education such a target for the Howard government this year. The conservative forces (watch Andrew Bolt) will expend much typeface getting hysterical over radicals programming our kids with propaganda. The fact that much of the intellectual work that might fit under the terms Marxist and feminist might be worthwhile will be ignored. That work in fact will be stigmatized regardless of quality.

The right will target the Humanities academy as it has developed over the last fifty years or so. Largely emerging from Marx inspired work by the Frankfurt School and British academics like Raymond Williams, Terry Eagleton and Stuart Hall, intellectuals coming from a background in literature who turned their attention to cultural changes precipitated by twentieth century technologies and the resultant mass entertainment industries. The result is the widespread replacement of such phenomena as the study of literature with Cultural Studies. This new interdisciplinary intellectual phenomena examines cultural practices, artifacts and institutions within a social context especially as they relate to power structures.

Whilst I am not per se opposed to this, (I am in many ways a product of Cultural Studies), I do have to admit that various critics of Cultural Studies have a point. The obligation to view cultural products exclusively as political manifestations runs risks. Ideology can replace quality. As long as someone produces something consistent with a nice left-wing point of view it’s deemed good regardless of its sloppiness or distortions. The suspicion of hierarchies of quality – that is that some things are better than others – leads to a plebian stew that equates, to paraphrase Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom, Hamlet with the White Pages.

I’m not arguing here that one should not be permitted to seriously examine ‘trash’ culture. What is trash? Shakespeare himself was dismissed for many years as the Jacobian equivalent of pulp fiction. And Raymond Chandler actually did write pulp fiction. Equating great works of literature, however, with transient, utilitarian publications in the name of equality goes too far. Moreover it fails to achieve anything like social equality. It simply defies common sense and makes one look foolish. It also evades the sublime and essential quality of the arts – the transmission of the meaning. The readings of To Kill A Mockingbird described above dealt extensively with various social aspects of the novel but failed at any point to deal with it as a beautiful book despite the fact that the presenters obviously loved it!!

Currently there’s a tendency to evaluate literature (by example) not according to ‘old-fashioned’ standards like literary excellence or historical insight but according to individual notions of what constitutes ‘ideological soundness’. My favourite illustrative anecdote comes from some years back when Jane Hardman-Brown an English secondary school teacher made the news refusing to take her students to a performance of Romeo and Juliet on the grounds that it was ‘heterosexist’. Ms. Hardman-Brown might want to read the play a few times and figure out what’s going on between Romeo and Mercutio before she makes those sorts of conclusions. She also might want to confront the fact that most people are heterosexual.

This is the sort of easy target that ideological standards of scholarship will inevitably set up. Naturally people will argue with me that Ms. Hardman-Brown’s actions are not typical. Perhaps not. But they are a substantial phenomena of the modern arts academy. To question cultural attitudes to homosexuality or anything else is a good thing, (funnily the To Kill A Mockingbird crew fail to mention Truman Capote or Harper Lee’s sexuality) but activist enthusiasm does not give educators carte blanche to inflict their counter-bigotries on students. Educators have responsibilities, and in that role those responsibilities are primary.

To disregard Shakespeare as heterosexism (he was bi dear) is akin in my mind to a Biology teacher teaching Genesis instead of Darwin. I should know my Biology teacher attempted to do just such a thing, supported by the (Christian fundamentalist) principle who seemed to believe that conformity was more important than learning. He succeeded. During his tenure uniform wearing became mandatory and the grade average plummeted.

All that said I support the basic precept of cultural studies: to mix ‘literary study of culture with anthropological studies. I merely believe that rigorous standards should replace wooly thinking pretending to aspire to some kind of dining room radicalism. The phenomena whereby the Humanities takes in the whole culture and not its most precious artifacts is itself a radical shift. In order to make it work it’s best (I feel) to jettison ‘leftist’ doctrine in favour of free enquiry unencumbered by ideological defaults but evaluated according to standards of excellence in research and elucidation.

Thus the challenge from the right might turn out to be a good thing ultimately. Often people are at their best under adversity. The Howard government, wily as it is, will not blatantly declare the (bad) lefty Humanities academy out to be replaced by (good) right-wing types, although this is what they intend to do. They will simply assert that criticisms launched at cultural studies by various forces (think Harold Bloom and Alan Sokal for starters) and try and stain anyone and everyone in their sights with same rhetorical brush: lunatic, dogmatic, trendy etc.

That the ideological default standards tend to have effects within the politics of Universities ensure that there will be plenty of people to sling labels at. Naturally the right will want quality scholarship stained as well. It is the quality stuff that threatens after all. Andrew Bolt frequently attacks Robert Manne not because his work is bad but contrawise.

The Humanities academy having sustained criticism and economic rationalist attacks for the past 25 years or so will not go down without a fight. Cultural studies has brought the humanities out of the ivory tower and into streets, homes and office buildings. It is potentially much more relevant now than it was in the days when it's basic purview was discussions about Wordsworth, Montaigne, Descartes and Rembrandt.

Still change’s gonna come ‘round. One positive outcome of such might be the promotion of clear and precise standards of expression. This will hard on anyone who's adopted Judith Butler as a style-guide but a boon to any intellectual who wishes to share her (or his) ideas with a general public. Anyone who has no ideas and uses postmodern obfuscation to disguise the fact is in trouble. However in the end the right might find their sortie backfires. Threats might force Arts intellectuals to do two things: seek out a market for their ideas and write in a style accessible to a popular audience. This is already happening but assaults from conservatives will amplify the trend and thus spread the ‘radical’ ideas out to a world thirsty for ways to express why precisely it is that things suck.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Late last year whilst participating for fun in the blogwars I had the great fortune to spar in a debate re. the legacy of General Auguste Pinochet. This issue prompted three posts from the blogger and pages of cyberpaper crammed to the brim with insulting tête-à-têtes between left and right-wing readers.

Although the blogger (crafty devil) did not actually come out and say anything himself re. Pinochet, he quoted long stretches of other writers’ work which implied that Pinochet wasn’t such a bad guy. The rationale for this argument was two pronged: first Pinochet wasn’t so bad because his predecessor Salvador Allende was much worse and second: Chilé was an economic shambles before the General put things right.

The blogger never went so far as to endorse any redemption of Pinochet but simply stated that he may deserve less condemnation than previously thought. This was a red flag to drooling leftists who howled for blood and walked right into a trap designed to make them look like doctrine driven robotic idiots.

Mission accomplished.

The blogger had a field week with the issue and his supporters had great fun putting the boot in. The final post on the subject challenged the left to make a counter-argument without “vilifying, making wild accusations, misrepresenting or lying?” (A good one coming from him.) He largely tagged many of the critical posts with ‘fail’. Rightly so. He didn’t however bother to acknowledge the many posts that actually managed to rise to his challenge. Nor did he correct his supporters when they were guilty of vilification, misrepresentation or just plain stupidity.

What became apparent during the debate was the way in which the term “Marxist” is being transformed into something bearing similar connotative qualities to ‘Nazi.’ For example consider this quote from the Michael Radu piece cited in the Pinochet blog:

"But while leftists choose to remember Allende as a beneficent democrat, history provides little support for this view. ... On the contrary, Allende’s regime was so radically Marxist that its most “moderate” element was the Communist Party."

The inference here is that Marxism is inherently anti-democratic, always and without exception.

This had been a notable thread in the blog running back a few months. The same week as the first Pinochet post there was another in which journalists from The Age were implicitly vilified as “Marx-quoters” as if to cite the man was an indication of criminal tendency.

This opposition to Marx, not just philosophically but morally is curious. To listen to some, reading Marx is akin to viewing child pornography: an inherently immoral act, something intrinsically tainting. I am reminded of an ultra-conservative and sartorially-challenged National Party Club President in my student days proudly declaring that he’d managed to avoid Marx in the five years it took him to complete his Bachelor’s degree in Asian politics. I thought he’d managed to stunt his own education: how much can you know about Chinese politics if you avoid Marx and Marx-related topics? He believed he’d come through Satan’s lair and emerged pure.

This kind of group think, dangerous in itself, bears exacerbating resemblance to the bleating of people today who call themselves Marxists and try to prove it by spending week-ends at dreary lectures on various topics relating to Left-wing history as distorted by the senior members of their Romantic Revolutionary Social Clubs. You can always see this kind of thing plastered over spare urban spaces in the form of photocopied simulacra of constructivist styles. One recent example being the hysterically inane: How Marx Became a Marxist.

This is of course why the word Marxist has become so useless. Most ‘Marxists’ have never read a word. They’ve been to a talk in which some dumbed down version of a pamphlet bearing slogans quoted from a stupid book of dogmatic verse has been badly delivered and, having run out of haircuts with which to annoy their parents, they become ‘Marxists’. Marxism here is part religion part sub-cultural fad. The Goth look for geeks.

But these are irrellevant here. Here we're discussing Marx's use intellectually and pedagocially.

The argument against Marx will be based on one thing: the anti-democratic nature and economic failure of Marx-inspired states. That Marx himself is not responsible for this and likely would have disapproved of them is one of those historical complexities that simple minds are determined to ignore. The argument for Marx will always be met by emotive anecdotes from the Soviet Union. Funnily enough China, which boasts a market economy and a totalitarian state, will probably be overstepped.

The reason Marx is ultimately demonized is that despite him being often wrong he’s often right. A quick scan of various Marx quotes will demonstrate this:

"The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e., the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force."

This is something that Rupert Murdoch (once a self-professed Marxist) would rather not make it into the daily papers. One day he’ll buy Fairfax out and make it so. The reason he’d rather we didn’t read it is because it’s true. The reason that he stands a fair shot of eradicating Marx from all but the most obscure cultural corridors is the same.

Then there’s my favourite:

"that peculiar disease, a disease that, since 1848, has raged over the whole continent, "Parliamentary Idiocy,"--that fetters those whom it infects to an imaginary world, and robs them of all sense, all remembrance, all understanding of the rude outside world."

Parliamentary Idiocy. I don’t care who you vote for, you just gotta love that phrase. And it’s perfectly true. Anyone who’s disappeared up the fundament of intense political activity, emerged to tell the tale and is honest with themselves will admit the truth of it. Regardless the author, this concept most definitely should be taught in schools: part of the strengthening of democracy via the cultivation of a healthily skeptical citizenry.

The facts of capitalism are built into the system. You don’t need Marx to breed discontent with the system just a long stretch of unemployment. What Marx adds is analysis. Consider:

"The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all nations into civilization."

Is this not a description of globalization? I’m amused by the ‘anti-globalization movement’, particularly the ‘Marxist’ elements. If they’d actually read him they’d understand that this globalization phenomena is part of the capitalist process: that the global bourgeoisie will give rise to the global proletariat. That is to a world of working people who, unfettered by cultural divisions associated with 'nation' etc, will come to understand themselves primarily as a class with common interests.

I can’t say for certain that this will happen but if I was a Marxist I wouldn’t be wasting my time protesting globalization. I’d be fostering international links within the Labour movement.

I’m not a Marxist. I’m loathe to put myself in any category that follows a name with the letters i..s..t. To treat any individual as the oracle of everything is stupid and lazy. I don’t mean this to describe all work inspired by Marx or others. Eric Hobsbawn is an historian whose method and subject matter are ‘Marxist’. His work is excellent. But one of the reasons for this excellence is that he does not lose sight of his obligations as an historian whilst deploying Marx’s principles in writing it. He does not fail to see the history for the theory.

The fact is like it or not Karl Marx is part of the intellectual history of the world. And like it or not he made contributions. The irony that his ideas would fuel the Soviet nightmare (one of history’s most oppressive states) is one example of the ironies that history is stuffed to the brim with. Marx’s most unfortunate phrase: the dictatorship of the proletariat was a romantic slogan chasing an ideal in which the lower classes would prevail. The Soviet Union might have declared itself to be the dictatorship of the proletariat but only became the dictatorship of a proletarian namely one Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili better known as Joseph Stalin.

To blame the iniquities of Marxist states entirely on Stalin would be a bit much. Stalin after all opposed the Communist revolution in China led by Mao Zedong who would transform into quite a killer himself. Stalin can’t be blamed for Chinese massacres, the ideology must itself be held accountable. It is accountable because it was a political philosophy that justified the concentration of absolute power in the hands of the few or the one. Any ideology that does so will bear the same results. But Marx himself is not accountable for twentieth century totalitarianism. He wasn’t there. There is a distinction to be made between his writings, the intellectual quasi-faiths that these inspired and the nasty business ensuing.

Marxism as it developed during the twentieth century bears a tenuous relationship to what Marx wrote. Nietzsche by comparison was much lauded by Nazis and other psychopaths for his ideas about the superman, master vs. slave cultures etc. That Nietzsche himself would’ve been appalled by the Nazis is evident to anyone who’s read him with any understanding. His discourse on the master and slave mentalities in The Genealogy of Morals is a direct contradiction of the master race perversion that Nazi intellectuals eventually made of it. This is now understood. Marx however is still demonized.

The reasons for this I suspect is that Marx is still relevant despite declarations to the contrary. After all he was the first to crystallize a theory of history based on class struggle. With this, as with other things, I believe he was over-simplistic. But he did outline the view that human society had developed along certain lines underpinned by an economic mode, that the social structure enabled by that economy was based on a class hierarchy which afforded a leisurely life to the ruling class and that significant (fundamental) change in the political structure of society was only possible after the economic mode had first advanced.

Marx was a fundamental materialist in this respect. He believed that ideas, culture, art and all the rest were a product of the economic structure. Ideas don’t change things, economics and class struggle do. There is argument to support this view. After all serious notions of a society founded on equality have existed at least since fourteenth century France but the political shift from a society ruled by an hereditary class (feudalism) to modern democracy was underwritten by the organic development of the capitalist system. Only after the merchant class had made itself the engine of society could it then demand political power.

An overly simplistic view, but the simplicity of his views does not discredit them. It is part of their value. Stripping phenomena down to bare essentials is very useful particularly if you are casting something in a new light. The error occurs when you rigidly adhere to the simplicity and then try to apply reality to it and not the reverse.

Marx’s materialism has been challenged notably by Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism. Marx’s ideas have themselves precipitated change in the development of Marxist states, another delicious irony. The Marxist states arose from backward and feudal societies thus contradicting Marx’s proposed itinerary of societal development: slave, feudal, capitalist, socialist, communist. Most of the Marxist states paid lip service to his theory whilst leap-frogging one or two stages of his theoretical development or at least attempting to.

Again I’m not a Marxist. I don’t endorse Marx’s claims to social prophecy. However I do believe that human society, in a shaky two-steps-forward, one-step-back, fall-down-drunk and stagger-up-again kind of a way, does get better. I believe we can and will do better than we are now. This will not happen by applying the implied theories of one man to everything from factory organization to skateboarding but it will likewise not occur if we censor ideas either.

Thus my argument is more akin to Voltaire than Marxist I am for the free exchange of ideas. For that to occur an idea cannot be censured simply because it’s by such-and-such. It must be considered on merit according to facts and relevance regardless the name on the title page. Much of what Marx had to say about capitalism and class society is as true today as it was when he wrote it. A lot of it is wrong. In that respect he’s just like myriad other thinkers throughout the ages. This is not an excuse to demonize him or exclude him from his rightful place in canon of thought.