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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 26–April 1]
. While commendably highlighting the
numerous contradictions and absurdities at the heart of Lars von Trier’s art,
one couldn’t help but notice the distinct chip on Bernhard’s 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 Trier’s 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 Trier’s relatively recent film, The Idiots, set in his native
Denmark, I doubt Dogville will come close to that film’s stinging vitriol.

When Bernhard questions von Trier’s right to make a film set in or about the
U.S., he doesn’t 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?

—Jon Sundell
Santa Monica

UNEARTHING OKLAHOMA CITY

Kudos on Jim Crogan’s article regarding the Oklahoma
City bombing and its many unanswered questions [“Secrets
of Timothy McVeigh,” March 26–April 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.

—Jeffrey Robbins
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

BIG BUSINESS BERNIE

Robert Greene’s political profile of Councilman Bernard
Parks is illuminating [“Sweet
Revenge,” March 26–April 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 don’t obscure the real political disagreements.
Whatever his image, Parks’ substance is that of a .big-business conservative.

—Jon Zerolnick
Los Angeles

STRUCK OUT

I consider myself a pretty liberal guy, but I’m finding
it difficult to feel sorry for three-strikers. The first example in Vince Beiser’s
story [“Foul
Justice,” March 26–April 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?

I’ve 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
Wilmington, Delaware

PICKING APART PROG

I have a few issues with Alec Hanley Bemis’ article “Joiners
in Believing” [March 19–25]
, most notably his assertions about prog rock’s
influence and its place in music history.

First, and most glaringly, he seems to assert that prog’s “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. I’ll 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 that’s 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’ Don’t 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,
doesn’t 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 Mangum’s lyrics,
tough guy.

The bottom line: Rock for critics like Bemis isn’t about music, it’s 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 wouldn’t be a bad word for critics who
crap their pants over badly played, thinly veiled pop music dressed in hipster
attire.

—Gabriel Lewis
Los Angeles

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 26–April 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.

—Josh Kamensky
Silver Lake


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