Gadget Lust

I’m not a gadget guy. People are often surprised by that because I have something like ten computers. But, see, I’m a computer guy. Didn’t get a cell phone till my latest job required one (and gave one to me). Don’t have GPS. Don’t listen to satellite radio. Didn’t have a DVR, until I made one myself (out of a computer).

I have many guitars and stringed instruments (like a banjo, a dulcimer, a lute), but of these only two plug in to anything. I don’t own a digital watch, a calculator, a PDA, etc.

But I do occasionally get the itch. Such as with this.

I’ve always wanted to make some digital artwork, but I’m not very good. I get by with #2 pencils, and most of the time, what I draw is rather kid-like, at the Ed Emberley level. (Every now and again, for reasons I cannot explain, given a lot of quiet time and concentration, I can make a truly lifelike illustration.) Nonetheless, they come out kind of cute sometimes and it’d be fun to put them up here from time-to-time.

Problem is, the meager ability I have completely vanishes when I try to move to digital tools. I’ve always felt the lack of a really nice tablet was a big culprit there. Sadly, I can’t really justify spending that kind of money. (I miss you, ‘90s tech bubble!)

Ah, well. A guy can dream. If he can sleep, he can dream, anyway.

Come to think of it, though, this isn’t really a gadget so much as a computer peripheral. So, none of my opening ramp really applies, does it?

Talents, Gifts and Skills

I’ve been a fan of Darleen Click over at Protein Wisdom for some time–local gal, I think–and was rather taken by this YouTube clip she posted of a woman singing on “Britain’s Got Talent”.

I wasn’t really surprised. But then, I don’t equate pop-star beauty with musical talent. (No musician does.) I found myself wondering if she needed more work in her lower register or if it was just that the sound mix was bad.

Anyway, lovely, even if not the sort of music I tend to listen to. One of the reasons I don’t watch “American Idol” is that I know the winner has to be the kind of pop-package that places musical quality behind a bunch of other non-musical considerations. Also, the chance of something actually interesting winning seems remote.

Meanwhile, S. Weasel has put up a sample of her artwork, the quality of which makes me fiercely covetous and got me thinking of “talent” versus “gifts” and “skills”.

I’ve been accused of being “gifted” or “talented” over the years, and I try not to be insulted by it. People are simply expressing a degree of admiration for something I can do. But there are few things that I consider myself gifted at. Reading, for example. That was a gift. My intelligence (such as it is) and a certain degree of math ability.

But just about everything else I consider a skill. And in most cases something that I’ve worked hard very at. I have a limited set of writing skills evolved over millions of words, so that I’m a pretty good tech writer, even if good fiction skills continue to elude me. I’ve got thousands of hours in music, which took me to the point where people kind of liked to listen to me play. (I probably could’ve crossed into the truly professional level but it seemed like a lot of effort to put into something that everyone claims to like but nobody actually listens to.)

Taking martial arts, as a teen, was a particularly eye-opening experience. Unless they were substantially older than I, virtually everyone who came in was more “talented”. They were more agile, lighter on their feet, and it seemed to be easier for them to acquire certain skills.

But I worked like a dog. And loved it. And I leveraged the gifts I did have–intelligence, youth and time–to get to where I could be a real threat. Then people started talking about my talent again. Sigh.

I don’t think that life is actually so clearly delineated, of course. A lot has to do with how I focused, just as the people who came in to karate with “natural ability” were people who had focused on incidentally tangential skills.

But some things have eluded me, over the years. I often say that, were I independently wealthy, there’s not all that much in my life that would change, and that’s true. But I would take time to see if I could actually get to drawing like the Wease, or singing like Susan Boyle. I’ve never put in quite enough hours to know for sure, but when I hear or see something expressed with such skill, I become covetous.

Ears and Links

About two years ago, the Barbarienne jammed her finger in my ear. Because of her age, her finger was just the right size to get into my ear canal; because of her strength, she jammed it in far enough to scratch my eardrum.

The resultant infection was so painful and persistent that I thought I might actually lose some hearing. It took weeks to clear up fully, but I was back hearing noises in that annoying 16-20K frequency range again in no time.

Which is a propos of nothing except that I recognized the problem sooner this time and didn’t let the infection go too far before going to the local “urgent care”. (Less than $100 and 30 minutes, with almost no paperwork.)

That, and I’ve been accumulating links from around the web but have been unable to cobble together much in the way of coherent posts. So here’s a round-up.

A reprint of a massive 1981 article on Love Canal, and a 2004 follow-up, both at Reason. Massive government screw up plus hysteria equals bad law.

Co-D&D creator Dave Arneson died. It doesn’t surprise me that there’s some rancor and controversy over who did what. Even if TSR hadn’t been dominated by a fairly shady couple, that might’ve arose. I’m glad the two did what they did. Of course, Gygax died at 69 and Arneson at 61, which might suggest the peril of too much gaming.

Vodkapundit tweeted this cute ad for–hell, I don’t even know. Sabre? Saber! Still don’t know what that is. One of these new “body products” they’re pumping out for men. I’m bad at this stuff. I have no products. (I kind of thought “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” was not awful, but I can’t imagine personally being more uncomfortable than had I been in that situation myself.)

These body product commercials amaze me, because there seems to be a common thread. In particular, there’s some severe exaggeration of the (formerly subtle) trope that women will pursue you if you spray this crap on you. (Pheremones! Science! 60% of the time, it works 100% of the time!) Like the Axe one where hundreds of women chase one guy on a desert island.

So, here they’re saying, well, you know this isn’t going to happen. What with the shortage of midichlorians on this planet and whatnot. You’re too smart to believe this stuff, right? But, you know, maybe it works a little. Can you afford to take that chance?

Reverse-double-secret psychology? If I thought they were aimin’ it at me, I’d probably be insulted. But, as noted, I don’t buy “product”.

Speaking of sexism, a bunch of people were tweeting this Naomi Wolf article on porn and pubic hair, blunting men’s appetites for sex. First of all, I swear I read this years ago. Turns out, Althouse was blogging how old it was two years ago. And its was just as dumb then. The only thing that can turn a man off “the real thing” is a woman. And she has to work hard at it. (Womens’ studies classes can give a gal all the ammo she needs, tho’.) And then the man is mostly not going to want sex with her in particular. That is, a man has to experience a lot of women like that to really be turned off sex. (I can only assume Naomi Wolf doesn’t know very many men.)

Well, okay, in fairness, entire cultures can probably gear down their people’s sex drives, by interjecting politics between Man and Woman. That might be what’s going on in the developed world. Then again, it might be some other physiological factor.

In any case–with all due apologize to FARK–it ain’t guys going, “She’s got pointy knees,” which is all Wolf’s argument boils down to. Guys put Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth up on their lockers 60 years ago, but they still got busy with Betty and Rita next door.

Twitter doesn’t allow you to tweet that much, so I just linked this delightful commercial. I almost expected a flame or two, but I’m not really on the radar of the perpetually outraged. (Advanced social studies study group question: Compare & contrast this commercial to the previous one, with special emphasis on how “personal products” are marketed to men versus women.)

Frank J asks the critical question of our day: Who is the more perfect leader? Obama or Kim Jong Il? The answer may surprise you. Then again, it may not.

Somebody I follow on Twitter, probably @thecardioexpert, linked this article on cholesterol. I like these kinds of things because the way our media presents things, it’s all “OMG! THIS IS DEADLY! AVOID IT OR DIE!” And it doesn’t matter if it’s salt or asbestos or alar or what. You don’t get a sense of the mechanics. And then you die because they didn’t warn you against eating broken glass.

I haven’t played with this site yet, but it’s about musical instruction and resources. What I really want is to be able to score a piece on the computer–full orchestra–and have it come out with those instruments. I’ve seen a few things that do this, but the output embarrasses me, it’s so bad. Obviously, there’s a limit to how good it can be, but there should be moments when it sounds like something other than a fleet of DX7s.

Then there’s the freaky bird here. Giant eyes–I mean, really giant eyes–are freaky. Reminds me of this guy who has remade Homer Simpson and Super Mario into their human selves. Also Jessica Rabbit, who doesn’t look that freaky. At first I thought, “Huh, typical guy.” Then I realized she’s not nearly as humanized as the other two, plus her eyes are mostly closed reducing the freak out factor.

Lastly, there’s this kinda-SIMS-y, kinda-The Movies-y, kinda-Playskool-y site where you can make your own 3D movies very easily. I haven’t tried it. But I’ve seen worse animation and voice-acting on TV.


But The Book Was Better

The unlikely-ly named Willing Davis has penned a screed for Slate which boils down to “the book is better”. In fairness, the author notes the triteness of the very premise, but he endeavors to explain the reasons in terms of plot versus story.

Well, hell, Joe Bob Briggs has been saying that for years: “Too much plot gettin’ in the way of the story!”

It’s usually true that the book is “better” than the movie, for some definition of “better”, but I like to point out the mystery that is Silence of the Lambs. The book is almost identical to the movie, yet it’s one of the greatest movies of all time, where the book is … not. (Not that it’s a bad book or anything of the sort.)

But you can smell the sentiment coming. You may know which one I’m talking about if you’re a regular reader:

It was released in 1985, and the great run of 1970s American film culture was just coming to an end.

You just knew it had to be one of those guys who loved nihilism and avocado green, didn’t you? (I did!) It makes me completely suspicious of his recommendation of Schrader’s Mishima, the virtues of which he is extolling. (Though one should always be wary of Schrader films.)

David follows up with:

Ironically, it was partly Lucas’ Star Wars franchise that proved how lucrative giving the people what they want, repeatedly, could be.

That’s not ironic: Spielberg and Lucas are movie lovers. That means they don’t just love arty flicks or popcorn flicks. It means they love movies. How could it be otherwise?

If not for L&S’s popcorn fare–or something similar in its place–moviemaking would be a complete niche that few cared about.

(H/T Instapundit, the Himbo.)

On The Criticism of Art

I once pissed off the entire WRITERS forum on Compuserve by comparing the output of art critics to bowel movements.

I was young, and a lot more honest back then.

Althouse’s thread on Ebert made me think of this incident, which was rather hard for me at the time, since I liked the people there, even if an inordinate number of them seemed to work writing reviews for porno. It was in that general area I “met” Mike Resnick and Diana Gabaldon. (They were in LITFORUM, as I recall, which WRITERS was split off from.)

Basically, a guy came in asking about why art critics are reviled, and my observation was that it was warranted. I was surprised at how lonely it got real fast. For me, it goes without saying that criticism, as a rule, is parasitic. Most people, I think, feel this way. I think because it’s mostly true.

What I got wrong, in retrospect, was thinking that criticism can’t be better than the thing it’s criticizing. That’s at least arguable, though I still think this Twain takedown of James Fenimore Cooper is pretty pissy. (Then again, I’ve never read Cooper.) On the other hand, this Richard Jeni bit on Jaws IV is hysterical.

MST3K and Cinematic Titanic could be seen as film criticism, though, as I’ve said, Citizen Kane would be a great movie to riff on, as Mike Nelson’s RiffTrax demonstrates. Art relies on certain conventions that are not logical, comprehensive or literal, and so it’s easy to make fun of. (This applies to paintings and sculpture, as well as music, literature and movies.)

But now, I suppose, we must confront The Big H: Hypocrisy. For example, this is pretty pissy. How many reviews of stuff, some of it in the category of “art”, have I done just here on this blog? The linked tag shows about 20 items, going back to late August. (I guess I haven’t been very good at tagging stuff.) I’m hypocriting at about 2-3 items a week, here.

Or am I?

When I review something, I’m trying to make it very idiosyncratic. I’m not on some lofty plane contrasting Gone Baby Gone with Proust’s Rememberance of Things Past. I’m not really concerned about Art-with-a-capital-A. (I learned in my music study days that such concerns tend to be constipating.)

What I try to do when I review anything, even a non-fiction work, is give you, the reader, an idea of where I’m at. Everything is viewed and evaluated from a particular point-of-view. Unlike science, where it’s required to eliminate the baggage that might come from that point-of-view, in art, the baggage is required.

You’re being presented with a series of images and words designed to create an emotional effect. Without the baggage that is your language, culture, upbringing, aesthetic, sensibility and so on, any work of art is going to fail to resonate. (Indeed, where does the resonance come from if not sympathetic strings of your own experience?)

For non-fiction, it’s a little simpler. If a book on how to make ice cream is 90% on how to calve and raise a particular kind of cow whose milk is especially good for ice cream, and I’m sitting in my one room apartmen tin the city, with the Alta Dena carton in my lap, I’m probably gonna be a little pissed. But it’s important you know that’s where I am.

And, in the end, even the guy who writes the bad book or makes the bad movie has done more than I have in my review. No matter how good the review (and the critical ones are the best, right?), making the art–however bad–is harder, braver and more worthy of respect.

Now, I think it’s perfectly respectable to walk out of a movie after eight minutes if, like Ebert–who I kind-of think is an idiot, adrift between what he knows he’s supposed to think versus what he actually thinks–you can make a shopping list of reasons why.

That list in his first review is brutal, perhaps, but probably fair: Moviemakers are required to present us with a minimum of technique to get us to stay in the chair. You can’t really violate all the rules with amateurism and shoddy craftsmanship and expect people to invest their time. The idea that even a critic is obliged to sit there subject to an insult of this caliber is pointless torture.

And you may (and should!) apply this bit of reasoning to my nanowrimo effort. Or any of my other efforts, if you can find them.

On The Importance of Being Earnest

Not the Oscar Wilde play but the actual importance of being earnest.

I was thinking about why I find Ed Wood watchable. And then about how I find the blaxploitation flicks of the ‘70s so entertaining.

And I think it sums up as: earnestness.

Earnestness is the opposite of camp, snark, irony, hipness. It’s meaning what you say, without regard for triteness or unintentional humor. It takes a kind of courage to be earnest, and a particularly in this post-modern era of deconstruction and over analysis.

One could, were one so inclined, analyze the national election in terms of earnestness versus camp. You might say the Reps tend to favor earnest candidates suspiciously, while the Dems earnestly favor hip candidates. But I won’t say that here.

Earnestness, of course, is no guarantee of quality, as Mr. Wood, Jr., clearly illustrated, along with the dialogue of the ’70s flicks about “the Man” and white and black prejudice. But it’s almost always entertaining, if not in the way the creators intended.

The original Evil Dead, for example, has many moments of unintended comedy mixed in with some truly scary moments, reflecting Sam Raimi’s youth and intensity. By contrast, Spider-Man 2 has a few scary moments that Raimi cribbed directly from his earlier film, and which are almost intense enough to push the movie into R territory.

We see from these two films, that it is possible to maintain earnestness even while raising quality. The second Spiderman movie is probably Raimi’s masterpiece, completely committed while technically brilliant.

But very often, earnestness is lost in the perfection of craft. I like Spielberg, and am not inclined to bashing him, but I think since about Saving Private Ryan, he’s lost a lot of the earnestness he used to have making popcorn movies. (He even mentions it in reference to Jurassic Park 2. His heart just wasn’t in it.)

Earnestness can become strident proselytizing, too. When I consider Plan 9 From Outer Space, with its message of non-nuclear proliferation (or…non-solarinite proliferation), I see a movie that’s a movie first, where the message of peril is meant to give some underlying resonance to the story, rather than a story dedicated to pushing that message. And I’d still rather watch it than The Constant Gardener or any of the anti-Iraq movies that have emerged in the past five years, regardless of “quality”.

Religious movies can fall into the same trap, of course. But you don’t get many religious mainstream movies these days.

I’m not a big Peter Jackson fan, but he kept the snark out of Lord of the Rings. You can’t do “epic” without earnestness: Things have to matter, while the whole of being hip, cool and camp is that nothing matters–and very often that nothing is really very good. Or, rather ironically, that “very good” = “very easy”. (That’s a kind of modern art conceit: You can’t write a song in C or make a representational painting like the old masters. That would be too easy.)

Earnestness, like being plainspoken, reveals how we actually feel and think, of course.

This requires a degree of vulnerability.

Which, in turn, is what makes art dangerous to create and even, in a way, to enjoy.

Graphic Nouvelle

In the Dark Knight Consterns post, Trooper brings up one of his favorite points: That comic book movies are good now because the people doing them are people who understand and like them.

To which I would only add: And technology makes possible reasonable approximations of the graphics in those comic books. You can’t make a movie about The Human Torch if you can’t come up with a reasonable looking man-on-fire effect. You can’t do a Superman movie unless you can reasonably make it look like one or two normal sized humans can incidentally trash a large city.

Another issue, however, is costumes. What comic book artists do is draw naked human bodies and color in where the costumes would be. Real life costumes, of course, hide definition. Take, for example, Superman.

Besides the bicep definition and the pronounced ribs, he’s impossibly barrel-chested. Compare to Chris Reeve, who bulked up for his role as The Man of Steel.

He looks almost scrawny, doesn’t he? This is a still, so he’s in the best light they could put him in. In the movie he almost looks slender. Probably few, if any, humans actually have even an approximation of that form.

And Brandon Routh’s not much better. Although obviously in superb condition, there’s no way to create a fabric that doesn’t hide definition.

Batman, on the other hand, started out pretty slender, and ultimately grew into Frank Miller’s monstrosity. Miller, of course, is not what you’d call “naturalistic” in his styles. The angrier The Batman gets in The Dark Knight Returns, the broader and squarer his jaw gets. In this picture, here, he’s actually dwarfing the horse he’s riding on.

There were early actors who wore Batman’s gray suit, culminating in Adam West–100% pure West. But by the time Keaton rolled around, they were adding fake muscles to the suit. Bale’s Batman outfit is, at least, supposed to be bulletproof, giving some justification for the articulated look.

Meanwhile, if you take a bodybuilder and paint a costume on him, the look is much closer, though without the exaggerated V-shape of the torso, and of course without the scale alterations. (Comic book artists change the size of the hero for dramatic effect, which is a little dodgy in live action.)

(You knew that, right?)

Curiously (heh), the X-Men movies go this route for Mystique who, I believe, is usually depicted as wearing a long dress (though split on both sides to the hip). Rebecca Romijn hardly needs clothing, however. Does she look like a superhero? Who cares. We haven’t seen hot blue chicks since the original Star Trek.

The X-Men movies made a lot of successful visual changes from the comic books. Could we take even Hugh Jackman (that guy’s ackman is huge!) seriously if he were in yellow-and-blue spandex with giant eye-flarey-thingies? (Seriously, what is up with those?)

Another X-Men character is Dark Phoenix. Here’s an inspirational photo.

Here’s the lovely Famke Janssen in that role, though looking a bit less provocative.

And lastly here’s our friend with the camera and models who like to be painted. Stirring, no? This guy’s flickr page has a set of superheros, including higher-resolution versions.

The point, of course, is that one medium (comic book art) uses tricks that don’t translate to other mediums.

Ugly Cartoons

I never got into “Ren and Stimpy”. It was my kind of humor (in parts), it was targeted at my demographic, even, but…it was ugly. I don’t mean content-wise, which was a combination of juvenille and surreal, but the actual graphics were.

But I blame it for the rash of ugly cartoons that have persisted to this day. Many use similar techniques that John K. pioneered (not all of them unaesthetically).

I shouldn’t say “blame”, since I just don’t watch shows like that. There’s a new one called “The Misadventures of Flapjack” which reminds very strongly of R&S.

I’m not sure where the line is or when I drew it. I love, for example, “Duckman”, though that’s right on the ragged edge. I watched the crudely drawn “Home Movies” faithfully, the Hanna-Barbera styled “Sealab 2021”, and I can even endure “Aqua Teen Hunger Force”. (Except for “Duckman”, these are all Adult Swim programs.)

Meanwhile, I can’t watch “Tom Goes to the Mayor” or “Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job!”, even though there are a lot of names I like associated with it. Same with “Metalocalypse”.

I used to watch Adult Swim pretty faithfully, but it’s to the point where 80% of the shows are just ugly.

Art: Liberal and Conservative

A post at Althouse has spurred a discussion over liberal vs. conservative art.

Art, of course, is neither liberal nor conservative, though it can be used to convey a message that may be politically defined. The more direct that message is, generally the more art used to convey it suffers. Even a master propagandist, like Leni Reifenstahl or Michael Moore, is subject to violating the reality of the viewers.

Reifenstahl got away with it because of the limited information popularly known about what the Nazis were up to. Similarly, Moore could portray Iraq as a kite-flying paradise in one movie and get away with it since most of have never been to Iraq, but he had a harder time selling the worker’s paradise of “universal state-provided health care” because too many people live in countries that actually have universal state-provided health care. Or, in the case of the USA, have been to the DMV.

But the more you have to alter or cherry-pick your reality, the more your art will suffer, which is why conservatives often reject Hollywood TV shows and movies as laughable, and why the slew of Iraq-based Evil America movies that have been released in the last couple years have been so disastrous.

Here’s a quote:

Trevor Jackson mentions success.

In the ‘60s, facing increasing competition from television, movie box office receipts dropped. Big spectacles were risky, and so movies were increasingly made on low budgets and were what you might today call “vanity projects”.

Lotsa film critics adore this period.

The beginning of the end came in 1975 with Jaws, with 1977’s Star Wars being the nail in the coffin. “Waitaminute!” studio execs cried, “We can make movies that people will actually go see? And more than once?”

And movies were ever thus changed–some film critics maintain that they were ruined.

Success-wise, “conservative” beats the tar out of “liberal” at the box office.

Even Trevor mentions Rocky, Rambo, Red Dawn, and other big hits. IMDB’s all time USA Box Office list is not scaled for inflation, so it’s deceptively weighted toward modern movies, but you won’t find much in the way of moral ambiguity in the top 100. (Itself an interesting discussion: What are the morally ambiguous films on that list? Chicago at 130, I haven’t seen, but from what I’ve heard is murky.)

While liberals apparently believe in the ideal human, they don’t like movies about them, unless they’re actively doing liberal stuff. If they’re confronting evil in a non-approved way, the narrative is “simplistic”.

I should add that I, personally, find that period of cinema (late ’50s to late ’70s) unwatchable along a bell curve. Ugly to look at, ugly music, ugly themes and ugly characters.

At least the Expressionist knew art design and pioneered film technique.

Trevor clarified to mean that “success” was an accurate reflection of the truth. I figured he didn’t mean, you know, actual success. No, seriously, there is a difference between artistic and popular success, with the greatest artists knowing how to back off the artistic just enough to reach the popular.

But what Trevor says about truth isn’t much different from what I’m saying. I added:

By your own definition, then, the only art that could be successful is art that agrees with you.

Do you see that? You judge “success” by accuracy of reflection of truth (as do I, in one sense, though I’m willing to ignore a whole lot of liberal distortions if the technique is good), but we’re talking about truth as you see it.

Worse, in many cases, if not yours specifically, we’re talking about “truth” as one has been indoctrinated to believe in, not what one has observed. Hence, “Crazy stripper makes wild accusation” becomes “Four rich white men rape poor black woman.”

The problem being that if you have a narrative in life–any narrative at all–you’re no longer observing what’s actually there. As a result, however good your technique is, your output suffers to the extent that your audience is able to observe the real truth.

For example, if you make a movie about Che Guevara, you leave out his unfortunate tendency to mass murder and his general incompetence. The Motorcycle Diaries is a better movie than The Lost City, but only if you don’t know (or just accept as a fairy tale) the real history of Che. The need to omit data that doesn’t conform is so severe that Soderbergh’s 4 ½ hour Che movie allegedly skips around those little details.

Compare with Lean’s Gandhi, itself overlong and omitting data. Is it okay to leave out Gandhi’s flaws but not Che’s? I would probably say yes, since Gandhi’s flaws were secondary to what he accomplished, where Che’s flaws–that unfortunate incompetence and tendency toward mass murder–were, in fact, a big part of what he accomplished.

Trevor Jackson’s basic thesis is here:

My contention is that it’s easier to create complex characters if you have a view of people that seems to be shared by those who support liberal policies.

The hilarity of this should be apparent to anyone who has heard the left completely demonize–without nuance or subtlety–the Bush administration of the past eight years. Bush and Cheney and Rove aren’t just wrong, they’re the embodiment of evil. I disagree with the administration on almost everything, but I think they’re good people. (Indeed, I think that’s part of the problem: They feel compelled to do something about things that should be left alone.)

Anyway, there’s a (not accidental) confusion of terminologies at work, with modern leftists hijacking the word “liberal” and “conservative” being a mushy amalgam of often contradictory values.

If you’re classically liberal, you have to believe that Man is inherently capable of good, of responsible self-governance, and of better self-governance than an elite body (be it king or oligarchy). We’re all (mostly) pretty well indoctrinated not to believe that any more.

Distinct from the classically liberal, modern left-wingers operate on the notion that Man is selfish, and that the only good, responsible folks are those who agree with left-wing policies. This amounts to a polar opposite of the above. And it requires one to ignore a great deal of available evidence. Also it causes them to create ridiculous caricatures of their political opponents as should be obvious watching any number of movies and TV shows.

This category includes environmentalists, collectivists, and some “New Age” groups, and a not insignificant portion of Hollywood.

Modern conservatives can fall into the previously mentioned “classical liberal” philosophy. This means that they have a fairly nuanced view of Man as both good and flawed. Most great narrative art probably falls into this category, from Shakespeare to Dickens to, say, JK Rowling. But it requires the recognition of evil, else you have no Iago, no Bill Sikes, no Valdemort.

The difference between the flawed and the evil usually being that the evil attempt to exploit the flawed to destroy them. But the distinction is usually clear: Scrooge, for all his faults, is no Sikes. (I’ve never met a Valdemort, but I have met Iago, who may be the most real portrayal of evil in literature.)

This is because it’s observably true that people are flawed, some are much less so than others, and some are (for all intents and purposes) evil. Therefore, if you’re writing about what you’ve observed and not trying to tie it to some particular policy notion, it’s probably not going to violate classical liberal notions. (This distinguishes, say, a Capra from a modern hack trying to influence policy: As evil as Potter was, there was always a Bailey there to act as a foil.)

Of course, some other conservatives are in the “don’t care” category: Man may be good or do good or be evil or do evil, but as long as the rules are clear and strictly enforced, it’s nobody’s business. But it’s hard to imagine this type being narrative-based artists. Ayn Rand, maybe?

Then there’s the dreaded Religious Right (or some hardcore section thereof), who are currently Republicans, but not really conservative. They share many of the characteristics of left-wingers: They believe that Man is only redeemed by adherence to their particular philosophy, and they tend to caricature their opponents as wanting to wreak havoc on the world.

But, as The Passion of the Christ shows, even a highly religious movie doesn’t have to be preachy.

In my observation, politics and even personal flaws (of the artist) has little to do with the art itself, and when those things do creep in, they tend to taint and detract from the final output. (If you can sit through it, Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda? is basically a core dump of his aberrations.) Charlie Wilson’s War, for example, completely omits any mention of Reagan, to the point where it’s a little weird. The Constant Gardener is an incomprehensible mess where the message of “Big Pharm is bad” completely destroys what might have been a good movie. Even my beloved Cinematic Titanic’s The Oozing Skull suffers from a pointless and unimaginative “Bush is stupid” joke. (Actually, the same is true of the MST3K movie: The weakest part is a reference to John Sununu.)

But the great artist, in composing his work, is not Democrat or Republican or Socialist or Communist or Libertarian, but a pure and watchful eye, a master of technique, a communer with the audience, and in the moment of creation, empty of himself.

Finally: Full Frontal Male Nudity

The English have long known of the comedic powers of the human penis. Indeed, who can forget the scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian wherein Brian, fresh from a night of coitus, opens his window in the morning in full glory to be greeted by a crowd of worshippers.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall brings this bold comedic genitalia in the form of Jason Segel’s whangdoodle. Full monty, as ‘twere. It’s a bold thematic gesture that really ties the movie together. Seriously. You’ll see. (Will you ever!)