Thursday, August 25, 2016

Morality


Clearly, justice must be the same for all, but is this not true also of morality? Yet for some people, under certain circumstances, this is hardly the case. There exist certain persons by whom morality can be uncontestedly flouted.

Profession has much to do with it. One of the callings where truthfulness, i.e., morality, is cheerfully trampled on, is, of course, advertising. Which, even more than social intercourse, elicits unconditional superlatives. The only thing that could achieve honesty in much advertising would be consumer skepticism among a vast majority of people. Too bad that the human brain does not come with the motto “Caveat emptor” imprinted upon it.

Scarcely behind advertising in lack of morality, i.e., truthfulness or honesty, is politics, where that virtue is practiced with notable parsimony. Or, in the case of someone like Donald Trump, where, it seems to me, its cousin amorality thrives from bottom to top, by which I mean his hair, its color quite possibly trumpery. I consider its lack of morality equal to that of a codpiece for Elizabethan trousers, or a microphone for toady’s pop singers.

But, to be sure, not only Trump’s blondness may infringe on morality; a passel of others of his shenanigans are far guiltier, as are those of  a good many politicians. Most smelling of hypocrisy is politicians’ abuse of religion. Hardly one who does not claim God to go arm in arm with him, backed up by little more than Sunday churchgoing. Christianity provides a standard moral masquerade. Not that I dispute the zeal of born-again Christians and Tea Partiers, but I wonder whether it is not, like taking up arms against the government, self-righteousness or self-interest: a facile grab for power among the socially and morally underprivileged. Holier than thou is usually less than holy.

This is not to say that genuine religiosity among politicos is out of the question; there must, after all, be a needle in some haystack. I just wish it weren’t in numerous cases so ostentatious and perfunctory, a set of down-at-heal cliches.

But the presumable apogee of immorality thrives among lawyers. The criminal lawyers  at any rate seem at the very least amoral by profession. If you attend a play in which the word “lawyer” is so much as mentioned, you are assured of  a gust of audience laughter. The only thing comparable is when one character, after a lengthy tirade by another, responds with “No shit?” But even that is becoming less sure-fire than “lawyer.”

True immorality does invade seemingly unlikely places such as sports.  Although much reprehended and steadily contested, doping will, I suspect, never be wholly uprooted. But there are other ways of cheating as well, in a field you were not expecting it. After all, is not sport, going all the way back to ancient Greece, supposed to be a noble, unblemished pursuit of excellence, implied by the very word “sportsmanlike”?
                                                                                                                                                        Based on the assumption of mens sana in corpore sano, our athletes are meant to be looked up to not only on the playing fields, in stadiums, swimming pools, ball parks, arenas and wherever else professional sports are practiced, but even in the private lives of these glorified and spectacularly remunerated winners, enjoying adulation from millions of fans. Unfortunately, the mens sana is harder to come by than the  corpus sanus. In their private lives, we get everything from wife beaters to victims of fabricated muggings near the 2016 Rio Olympics. In Ryan Lochte’s apology even the recurrent term “overexaggerated” for lying is a moral fiasco.

I will skip over such heroes of our times as rock stars, of whose moral grandeur Jimi Hendrix offered as sole example their having taught countless groupies how to give better head. But what about actors then, the nearest approximation to rock stars? Are they not likely to carry the pretense of their finest roles over into their daily lives? There has of course been the notion that big stars, like their producers, enjoy the privilege of the casting couch, whereby pretty women get their roles, especially in the movies, on their performance on that piece of furniture rather than on screen or stage. This, by the way, is a histrionic area in which nowadays handsome young men seem to have rather taken over in defiance of the phrase “ladies first.” In any case, in our more permissive era, any type of sex advancing one’s status is considered perfectly comme il faut.

Certainly sleeping with the director has become pretty much established, almost de rigueur, which reminds me of the case of a famous British actress telling me that she does not figure in the memoirs of a famous director with whom she would not go to bed, whereas another, equally famous but also more willing actress prominently does.

All of which brings me to my profession: what about morality in critics? I have been praised by an academic as the one critic who writes exactly what he thinks, which I would consider a minimal requirement for the job, but given what most of today’s reviewers are like, may indeed be a distinction. These reviewers—they scarcely rate the honorific critic—let pass altogether too much twaddle, it hardly matters whether out of fear of losing their jobs or out of authentic benightedness  and genuine poor taste.

In his biography of Pauline Kael, Brian Kellow quotes her as saying about film criticism, “You don’t have to know what John Simon does to be the best at it,” by which criterion she certainly qualifies as one of the best. I maintain that no kind of ignorance is bliss in criticism, and that there less is definitely not more. What is most often held against me, along with alleged homophobia and undeniable taste for good looks in performers is, I’m afraid wit, which admittedly hurts the recipient but regales the discriminating reader.

In his interesting anthology “The Critics Say . . .”  Matt Windman quotes Elisabeth Vincentelli (formerly of the Post, now of the Times) about me: “He’s such a great stylist and writer, but his meanness is just too much. It was delicious to read, but sometimes it got in the way of his critical acumen and that kind of spoiled the pleasure in reading him. I didn’t feel like there was any generosity behind it. He often wrote about very real issues that nobody else would touch—the stuff that’s very tricky to deal with—but he wrote about it with such a lack of empathy.’

Well, I wouldn’t trade my lack of empathy for all the king’s horses and all the prevalent critical horseshit. I take comfort from the good things Woody Allen says about me in the new, excellent biography, “Woody,” by David Evanier. In spite of my rather sharp criticism of some of his movies , he thinks that “Simon’s film criticism would endure more than that of any other critic.” And in my copy of the book he wrote “To John Simon—Thank you for keeping me and all of us in movies and theatre honest, Woody Allen.”

 And so, I think, the truly moral critic can adapt Falstaff’s “I am not only witty in myself, but also the cause that wit is in other men” as “I am no only honest in myself, but also the cause that honesty is in other men.” And women, too—ask my friend Betty Buckley, or, were she alive today, Madeline Kahn, who had her breasts diminished because of something I wrote about them.

31 comments:

  1. I have to live for others and not for myself: that's middle-class morality.
    George Bernard Shaw

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  2. I lie a lot. Especially when I was younger. Telling the truth is overrated anyway. There's always some bozo asking you questions about your personal life. They'll ask you how much money you make, or if you ever cheated on your wife. Like my heroes (Lynyrd Skynyrd) once said: "Don't ask me no questions, and I won't tell you no lies."

    Lying is an essential part of survival in this world. What's a "lie" anyway? There are 100 different shades of lying. There are monster lies, and then there are tiny lies and everything in between---and, they all come in handy---they are all necessary---and everyone does it.

    "Embrace the lie. Love the lie. Celebrate the lie" That's my motto. Okay, let's say you've been out screwing around on your wife, and you get home a little too late. You smell like booze, and you have lipstick on your collar. Is telling the truth the "moral" thing to do? Hell NO! Are you fucking crazy?? You embrace the lie!

    "John's car had a flat and we had to go into this joint to use the phone (this story is before cell phones). When we got in there, a surprise birthday party erupted, and we were surrounded by drunken bimbos. God! I hated it, Honey! I'm never going out with that bastard again. I promise. I swear on a stack of bibles!" (At this point you raise your right hand to the ceiling proving your sincerity---and morality.)

    Some asides:
    My mother was the only person I've ever known that didn't lie. She even told me that when I was young and goddamnit she was right. The woman has never lied.

    I noticed you have to be careful writing an essay about the word "lie". The word "lie" is one of those words you can really get screwed up. Even spellcheck won't bail you out sometimes.

    I love Simon's criticism, but I was always disappointed that he didn't like the same movies I liked. I liked the movies he liked, but he would never cross over to my side. Movies like "Pulp Fiction". How could someone NOT like Pulp Fiction? Or, the Coen Brothers movies? "Fargo"? Come on! How could you NOT like Fargo? These movies are cram-packed with juicy nuggets of cinematic fun! No! Simon has to have "real life" movies. Movies like everyday life (yawn). I say: "Simon, get the corncob out of your ass and start liking some movies that aren't realistic. You might have some fun!"

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    1. How can anyone endorse PULP FICTION, a thoroughly anti-human and nihilistic movie?

      It is sick, sadistic, and vile. Sure, it is funny in parts, but the sheer ugliness of it all.

      Why don't you see something sane like SLOW WEST or KINGS OF SUMMER?

      I think all that Royal with Cheese went to your brains.

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    2. Hey, I loved Slow West! "Kings" was kinda silly. A poor man's Stand By Me.

      I like Pulp Fiction because (with a couple of exceptions) every scene is a tour de force of filmmaking. I could name them all, but I don't want to type that many words. And, it's not "funny in parts," it's hysterical throughout the entire film.

      The only scenes I don't like are the ones with Butch and his girlfriend. Those scenes are necessary, but not as well done as the rest of the movie. Even Tarantino himself has a great turn in the movie. Every individual scene is nearly perfectly done, and then, the scenes are also jumbled up in interesting ways. For example, I like how he shows Jimmy's wife coming home and finding the "mess," when actually that never happened. Tarantino pulls this type of thing off all the time. He'll film a scene for the movie that never happened, or that some character was just thinking about.

      Pulp Fiction is a celebration of moviemaking. It IS nihilistic, and wonderfully so. Have you seen the crap coming out of Hollywood the last 60 years? I'm glad someone wants to shake things up.

      One thing I will say is that I've been disappointed in Tarantino's work since Pulp Fiction. I enjoyed Inglorious Bastards, but other than that, the films have mostly fallen flat. I think Quentin needs to get out of the rut he's in and try something completely different. Get away from the shut-em-ups (for a film or two).

      Anyway, thanks for the response TM! I don't know anything about politics, so I can't comment on your other posts. I can only say that I think the country could do better than the two candidates standing up there right now.

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    3. Regarding cheating on one's spouse as depicted in film, most memorable for me was "The Heartbreak Kid" with Charles Grodin and Jeanne Berlin. Just hilarious!

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    4. @Phil, Simon would HATE "The Lobster", but it's a fantastic movie. Check it out!

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  3. I've long known the (Samuel Johnson, or Foote?)saying "He is not only dull in himself, but the cause of dullness in others.", and I finally realize it was likely a riff on Falstaff's witticism about wit.

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  6. Gentlemen,
    I'm a brazilian highschooler who will study english literature in college, can you please recommend me good critics of films and books like mister Simon? I love this rigorousness and will profit very much from studying writers like him. Thank you.

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  7. Here is morality for ya.

    http://www.unz.com/proberts/trump-vs-hillary-a-summation/

    We know from their words and deeds and material success that the Clintons are agents for Wall Street, the Big Banks, the military/security complex, Israel, agribusiness, and the extractive industries. Their large personal fortune, approximately $120 million, and the $1,600 million in their foundation, much of which came from abroad in exchange for political favors, attests to the unchallengable fact that the Clintons are agents for the oligarchy that rules America, indeed, that rules the American Empire from Australia and Japan, through North America and Western and Eastern Europe to the Russian border.

    We know that Hillary, like Bill, is a liar.

    We know that Hillary is a warmonger.

    We know that Hillary made the most irresponsible statement ever uttered by a presidential candidate when she declared the President of Russia to be the “new Hitler,” thereby raising tensions between the nuclear powers to a higher level than existed during the Cold War.

    We know that Hillary is allied with the neoconservatives and that her belief in the neocons’ ideology of US world hegemony is likely to result in war with Russia and China.

    All we know about Trump is that the oligarchs, who sent America’s jobs overseas, who flooded the country with difficult-to-assimilate immigrants, who destroyed public education, who bailed out Wall Street and the “banks too big to fail,” who sacrificed American homeowners and retirees living on a fixed income, who intend to privatize both Social Security and Medicare, who have given the public killer cops, relentless violations of privacy, the largest prison poplulation in the world, and destroyed the US Constitution in order to increase executive power over the American people, are violently opposed to Trump. This opposition should tell us that Trump is the person we want in the Oval Office.

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  8. Hillary the favorite of the sociopathic Establishment goons:

    http://www.unz.com/article/i-ran-the-cia-man-piles-on-trump/

    Morell runs through the litany of the GOP candidate’s observed personality and character failings while also citing his lack of experience but he delivers what he thinks to be his most crushing blow when he introduces Vladimir Putin into the discussion. Putin, it seems, a wily ex-career intelligence officer, is “trained to identify vulnerabilities in an individual and to exploit them. That is exactly what he did early in the primaries. Mr. Putin played upon Mr. Trump’s vulnerabilities… In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.”

    How can one be both unwitting and a recruited agent? Some might roll their eyes at that bit of hyperbole, but Morell goes on to explain why a claim that would be rather difficult to validate matters. He is unflinching and just a tad sanctimonious in affirming that his own intelligence training means that “[I] call it as I see it.” He derides Trump’s naivete in affirming that “Mr. Putin is a great leader…ignoring that he has killed and jailed journalists and political opponents, has invaded two of his neighbors and is driving his economy to ruin. Mr. Trump has also taken policy positions consistent with Russian, not American, interests — endorsing Russian espionage against the United States, supporting Russia’s annexation of Crimea and giving a green light to a possible Russian invasion of the Baltic States.”

    Comments in The Times suggest that many readers are actually buying Morell’s argument, such as it is. They are perhaps ignorant of a number of facts about the author and where he stands ideologically and politically speaking, but first of all Morell’s bluster deserves a bit of a fact check. That the U.S. is “an exceptional nation” obliging it to lead the world, using force without hesitation whenever necessary, might well be questioned by many, particularly in light of the ineffective – or one might say disastrous? – policies instituted over the past fifteen years, policies which, I might add, both Morell and Clinton were parties to.

    Contrary to Morell’s assertion, a hawkish Hillary Clinton has never hesitated to put young Americans or anyone else in “harm’s way.” His advocacy of Hillary’s promotion of using military force to overthrow Bashar al-Assad in Syria can be easily challenged by even cursory reflection on the dreadful results produced by similar efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. A Syria with no government or a regime made up of a mixture of enemies of al-Assad would have become an open door for the development and expansion of ISIS, which is currently being most effectively opposed by the Syrian Army. And the Russians.

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  9. Media know no morality. It is run by the cabal and its minions.

    http://www.unz.com/efingleton/the-presss-vendetta-against-trump-is-real-and-unscrupulous/

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  10. If Simon supports Hillary who supports Merkel, he is for the Afro-Islamicization of Europe.

    He is a race-traitor fool.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXZUQLS1fGM

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  11. Any thoughts on the morality of the dominatrix? She helps bring to fruition dark and hidden fantasies, and perhaps by doing so to make them lose their compulsion and force.

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    1. Hell yeah a dominatrix is moral. Leave it to nochinator to bring the kinky side of the story! **hands clapping**



      nochinator, are you on Twitter?? I can't find you there.

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    2. Thanks, Uncle Kinky -- I had a Twitter account but I dropped it. And I like to say "Facebook is for women, LinkedIn is for men," it ticks people off....

      Yes, a dominatrix can take a client's dark desire, something unwelcome and compelling, and then by enacting it (or a variant of it), make that desire lose its force or evaporate altogether -- so it's a little bit of immorality in order to obliterate a big chunk of immorality....

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    3. http://giphy.com/gifs/C7Dp4EB0Y5oUU

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    4. That guy was in 'The Intern', with Anne Hathaway and Bobby De Niro, d'ja see that? Kind of a chick flick, but enjoyable enough for the XY-chromosomed set as well....

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    5. Ah, OK, I see -- Urban Dictionary has defined this phenomenon:

      http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=fearection&defid=5831203

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  12. I'm not sure what Jimi Hendrix's groupie habits has to do with the wider point of rock stars's morality in general. The smear generalization can be a form of immorality too, Mr. Simon. Besides that, good show.

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  13. Also, have to wonder, did you ever say ANYTHING good about a Woody Allen movie?

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  14. (If I may be so bold. *sniggering*)

    Woody had three phases in his career.

    1) The Funny Films (early on, ending with Manhattan)
    2) The Sophisticated Films (middle period, ending with Crimes and Misdemeanors)
    3) The Films Since Then (I won't comment here)

    Since Simon won't answer your question, I will: "No" I can't remember any positive reviews from Simon about an Allen film. In fact, most of the reviews were complete pans. In a few cases undeservedly.
    Since all of the other New York film critics adore/adored Woody Allen (almost without exception), Simon took it on himself to "balance things out."

    I'm kind of overstepping my bounds here answering for John, but you know what? I don't care. *laughing hysterically*---I'm crazy anyway.

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    1. Mr. Simon gave a good review to 'Crimes and Misdemeanors'---he wrote good things about 'Sleeper' too, unless I'm misremembering....

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    2. I don't remember 'Sleeper'( a quiet masterpiece), but I have the book in front of me. He gives 'Crimes' about an 85% negative review. 'Crimes' is, if not great, an excellent film, with beautiful cinematography, wonderful performances (including Allen), and a great script/story. It's a Top 100 film of all time, which ain't chopped liver.

      Simon felt internal self-pressure to degrade Allen films because of all the hype the other NY reviewers gave The Woodster. Like all great devil's advocates, Simon could never go the way of the average movie critic, always had to disagree with the masses, and I love him for that. Still, The Woodmeister made fantastic movies. Case Closed.

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  15. I think he would have conceded some of the jokes were good, but no, on balance, I can't remember a positive review.

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    1. But they are joined by a love of Bergman.

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    2. I'm surprised Simon likes Bergman. If any other director tried the fancy-schmancy stuff Bergman did Simon would be on 'em like stink on shit. Go figure.

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    3. He is as tough on Bergman as anyone, but certainly feels he achieved greatness, and Simon did a whole, excellent, book on him.

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    4. Simon was tough on 'Fanny and Alexander' which was a terrific film. Okay, it wasn't QUITE as good as some of Bergman's other films, but it was still better than 99% of any film from the early 80's.

      That's like saying:

      "Oh, I hate this work of art. It's one of Picasso's worst paintings ever!"

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