AN AMERICAN IN SCANDINAVIA
After living for the past 50 years under a strong American cultural hegemony, and with the frayed relationships over the war in Iraq, Europe is definitely re-evaluating its love affair with America. Like many an American visiting Europe these days, Brendan Bernhard, too, seems to have been thrown on the defensive during his stay [Lars Attacks!, March 26April 1]. While commendably highlighting the numerous contradictions and absurdities at the heart of Lars von Triers art, one couldnt help but notice the distinct chip on Bernhards shoulder as he took potshots not only at von Trier but the Scandinavian countries in general.
With a communist past, von Trier probably harbors views readily identified as anti-American. The question is, are his movies anti-American? If an American had made the same film, would Bernhard so doggedly pursue this line of inquiry? Without having seen Dogville yet, I would still suppose that, like the Coen brothers, von Triers is an America born not out of political manifestoes, news headlines or personal experiences, but of other movies. Dogville seems universal and could have been set in almost any little town. And having seen von Triers relatively recent film, The Idiots, set in his native Denmark, I doubt Dogville will come close to that films stinging vitriol.
When Bernhard questions von Triers right to make a film set in or about the U.S., he doesnt seem to have understood how downright offensive it is for a Scandinavian to see such rampant inequality and poverty in the richest country in the world. Describing the Danish society where abject poverty has been eradicated and where everyone, more or less, is middle class as slightly hellish feels like a comment only a very few people in this world can afford to make. It also makes Bernhard seem truly blind to the real inequities confronting his own society. And while Bernhard is correct in pointing out some of the truly deplorable aspects of Scandinavian immigration policy, is the U.S. perhaps the only country almost entirely made up of immigrants a fair comparison?
UNEARTHING OKLAHOMA CITY
Kudos on Jim Crogans article regarding the Oklahoma City bombing and its many unanswered questions [Secrets of Timothy McVeigh, March 26April 1]. Rare is a news outlet willing to publish facts that get closer to the truth on this issue. I look forward to coming articles on the topic. Hopefully, for the country and Oklahoma, the whole truth may yet still become known.
BIG BUSINESS BERNIE
Robert Greenes political profile of Councilman Bernard Parks is illuminating [Sweet Revenge, March 26April 1], but he gets one crucial point wrong. Greene writes, [Parks] differences from colleagues who paint themselves as progressives often are more image than substance, and claims that Parks shares with Councilman Martin Ludlow a concern about the proliferation of fast-food outlets and few jobs in South L.A.
On these issues, Parks and Ludlow share an image of concern, but this is merely rhetoric; the substance of their beliefs could not be more different. Ludlow supports using city government to regulate the kinds of developments that locate in Los Angeles. He would prevent Wal-Mart and other big-box supercenters from undermining the grocery stores that still provide thousands of L.A. families with good jobs and health care. Parks, however, subscribes to a free-market solution guided by no greater philosophy than consumer choice. He would sooner let good jobs disappear than use his authority to save them.
Pick whatever side you will, but dont obscure the real political disagreements. Whatever his image, Parks substance is that of a .big-business conservative.
I consider myself a pretty liberal guy, but Im finding it difficult to feel sorry for three-strikers. The first example in Vince Beisers story [Foul Justice, March 26April 1] paints a picture of a supposedly reformed criminal who only turned to drugs after a family tragedy. Am I to believe that this person forgot that he had two prior felony convictions?
Ive met several one-time felons. Most of them were caught up in the idiocy of youth. All of them took the hint. The stiffest sentence any of them has received since their felony conviction is a traffic fine. Anyone with two felony convictions in California is well aware of their status. For that person to then habitually practice felonious behavior is thumbing their nose at the law and they deserve whatever they get.
Kevin E. Reilly
PICKING APART PROG
I have a few issues with Alec Hanley Bemis article Joiners in Believing [March 1925], most notably his assertions about prog rocks influence and its place in music history.
First, and most glaringly, he seems to assert that progs reviled influence is only now beginning to show itself in the music of the rock underground. The list of modern underground rock music directly influenced in fantastic ways by the best of what prog had to offer is lengthy and varied. Ill mention only a few widely recognized and respected examples, such as Don Caballero, Mr. Bungle, the Fucking Champs, Dillinger Escape Plan, Coheed and Cambria, Heavy Vegetable (or Thingy or Pinback take your pick), the Mars Volta, John Vanderslice, Hella, Lightning Bolt, Meshuggah, Shudder To Think . . . and thats only a smattering of modern rock bands that hipsters generally dig, dig? Let alone really obscure rock bands influenced by prog, like, say, Radiohead or Tool.
As bloated and self-indulgent as prog rock became, and as ridiculous as the subject matter of the lyrics could be (Yes Dont Kill the Whales springs to mind), what the musicians and, unlike the majority of hipster rock bands, they actually were musicians were trying to do was push the boundaries of rock music, incorporating classical structures and approaching what have become the traditional instruments of rock in nontraditional ways.
Can anyone actually claim that indie rock, for lack of a better misnomer, doesnt suffer from bloat, pretension and opaque references to the incomprehensible? Bloat? Have you sat through an entire Godspeed You! Black Emperor album (did I even put that exclamation mark in the right place?)? Pretension? None of the current media darlings the Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs or Interpol could be accused of that. Opaque references? You decipher Jeff Mangums lyrics, tough guy.
The bottom line: Rock for critics like Bemis isnt about music, its about attitude, image and an accessible hook kind of like what mainstream music is about. Revivalism is hip, derivation is a badge, and posturing is a premium. If it was truly about the music, prog wouldnt be a bad word for critics who crap their pants over badly played, thinly veiled pop music dressed in hipster attire.
PEACE OF MIND
Marc Cooper chides the peace movement for failing to build bridges to the political center, but his criticisms never identify elements for progressives to support [Dissonance: No Gloating, Please, March 26April 1]. While he takes potshots at the parent organization of the people doing the work to put picket signs and bodies on the streets, he reserves political praise for quirky individualists like Arianna Huffington, whose constituency is no more organized than those of the Santa Monica Pier and the Las Vegas card tables topics that Cooper has managed to cover without mistaking for political forces.
Why were fewer in the streets this year? What messages should peace activists have about the occupation of Iraq? What was the relationship between the Dean campaign, disciplined but hardly ultra-left, and the momentum of the peace movement? These are good questions. Please, Marc, take a break from deriding Mumia and squishy liberals and help answer them.