photo: ava gardner, photography a treacherous medium, republicans and porn another saga

Ava Gardner by Arnold Newman

M’s Gardner played Maxine Faulk in the film version of the Tennessee Williams play The Night of the Iguana (1964). As much as the dialog propels the story in this film as in most of Williams work there is actually more in the subtext then the actual narrative. Gardner’s Maxine makes Meredith in Grey’s Anatomy look like a novice lost in a Vegas casino, but if you’re looking for a character to invest some feelings, Maxine is really the most deserving. Her outer hedonist is just a mask for a woman who doesn’t simply want true love, she wants to believe that such a thing really exists. Until someone comes along to make her believe it does, she’ll just swim, dance, and enjoy some mindless companionship, thank you very much.

Gardner also played a small, but integral part as Ellie Holbrook in a political thriller called Seven Days in May (1964). It has become a kind of shorthand to say this movie is about a military take over of the government. Too simplistic, one of the heroes of the movie is Col. Martin ‘Jiggs’ Casey(Kirk Douglas). It was about some militaristic authoritarians on the far right that thought they knew more about what was good for America then the founding fathers and the American people. Made 42 years ago and still relevant.

The Treacherous Medium

    Susan Sontag’s On Photography was published in 1977, and it remains astonishingly incisive. It has been, rightly, immensely influential on other photography critics. And immensely influential, too, in setting the particularly reproachful tone of photography criticism. Look, for instance, at Sontag’s description of photography in the first chapter of the book, which establishes a voice, an attitude, an approach that is maintained throughout. Sontag describes photography as, among other things, “grandiose,” “treacherous,” “imperial,” “voyeuristic,” “predatory,” “addictive,” “reductive,” and “the most irresistible form of mental pollution.” A typical sentence reads, “The camera doesn’t rape, or even possess, though it may presume, intrude, trespass, distort, exploit, and, at the farthest reach of metaphor, assassinate—all activities that, unlike the sexual push and shove, can be conducted from a distance, and with some detachment.” Metaphor indeed! On Photography was written by a brilliant skeptic.

So, too, was Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida, first published in France in 1980. Delicate and playful, this book is a love letter to the photograph. Barthes celebrates the quirky, spontaneous reactions that photographs can inspire—or at least the quirky, spontaneous reactions they inspire in him: “ A photograph’s punctum is that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me).” Still, Camera Lucida is a very odd valentine, for Barthes describes photographers as “agents of Death” and the photograph as a “catastrophe”; also as “flat,” “platitudinous,” “stupid,” “without culture,” and—most unkind—‚ “undialectical.” The photograph “teaches me nothing,” Barthes insists: it “completely de-realizes the world of human conflicts and desires.”

It is not so much a matter of agreeing or disagreeing with Sontag about photography as much as painting and sculpture can also be “grandiose,” “treacherous,” “imperial,” “voyeuristic,” “predatory,” “addictive” and “reductive”.  Barthes may push it too far in the sense that the mass production of the camera makes the medium ultra egalitarian it is inevitable that out of the billions of photos that are taken that yes most of them will be “flat” and “without culture”. So what, paint by numbers kits avaibale to the masses in hobby stores doesn’t make paintiing as an art form “undialectical”. I want to think that photography can be art, but if I wanted to make the case that it wasn’t I wouldn’t start at its weakest point.

‘Flesh and Boners’ and Republican donors

 First there was Jeff Gannon, the gay prostitute and faux journo mysteriously given passes to White house press conferences. Then there was Mark Foley. But that one’s fresh in your mind.

The latest from Josh Marshall: “It turns out that the Republican National Committee is a regular recipient of political contributions from Nicholas T. Boyias, the owner and CEO of Marina Pacific Distributors, one of the largest producers and distributors of gay porn in the United States.”

The hypocrisy is frighteningly standard. The GOP’s in a bind. They need cultural conservative votes in order to win, yet they don’t give a flying f**k about their values, beliefs, or needs. As far as whom they take money from or what kind of lives their operatives and candidates lead, well, those are clearly of little to no concern.

Which is also why leaders like James Dobson, Tony Perkins and others are in danger of damaging their reputations, but good. Forced to shut their eyes to parts of the Republican Party they don’t agree with, they wind up making deals that compromise their ethics and values. When their followers get wise to the reality of politics, as they eventually will, it’ll take a herculean effort to patch things up. (emphasis mine)

This story reminds me of a pet theory. That conservatism and its practitioners make up not so much a legitimate political school of thought as much as a quasi-religion, and as such as reminds me of Thomas W. Higginson who observed, “All … religions show the same disparity between belief and practice, and each is safe till it tries to exclude the rest.” Republicans have become good at rationalizing that huge gap between what they say and what they actually do.