Tuesday, 19 July 2005

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A Xenotheological Romance? or, Why God Loves His Terran Children More A chunk of narration near the end of Wells' War of the Worlds has always bothered me. That same chunk of narration in Spielberg's War of the Worlds bothers me even more. I haven't read Wells in years, but as I started to working the influence of evolutionary theory ca. 1890-1910, I realized I'd have to account for War of the Worlds. After all, it's one of the few novels in which evolution qua evolution wins. Pure and simple: the best laid plans of man and alien fall before the unremitting logic of Darwinian adaptation. That's why the inclusion of this passage--in the form of a voice-over by Morgan Freeman--seems so, dare I say, conciliatory: And scattered about it, some in their overturned war-machines, some in the now rigid handling-machines, and a dozen of them stark and silent and laid in a row, were the Martians--dead!--slain by the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared; slain as the red weed was being slain; slain, after all man's devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth. Spielberg, founding member of the Actual Jewish Media Conspiracy (a.k.a. Dreamworks), kowtows to an increasingly Christian marketplace of ideas by including that narration out of context. In the film, Tom Cruise and his daughter shack up wtih Tim Robbins, a former ambulance driver. Robbins--like Cruise's son in the film--is compelled by the need to do something to, well, do something. As the aliens approach, Robbins becomes increasingly unstable, and so Cruise must put him down. The scene works. The murder of Robbins the ambulance driver--in addition to sounding like a Smiths' B-side--expresses the limits to which Cruise will go to survive. However, Spielberg focuses entirely on the revelation of Cruise's character--Robbins shuffles onstage, speaks bravely, cracks, and is shuffled off--whereas Wells' focus is as much on the curate as the unnamed (and decidedly less heroic) narrator. That's right: I said curate. The criticism of the cloth in the novel is unmistakeable. To wit: At Halliford I had already come to hate the curate's trick of helpless exclamation, his stupid rigidity of mind. His endless muttering monologue vitiated every effort I made to think out a line of action, and drove me at times, thus pent up and intensified, almost to the verge of craziness. He was as lacking in restraint as a silly woman. He would weep for hours together, and I verily believe that to the very end this spoiled child of life thought his weak tears in some way efficacious. Once God abandons him, the curate's "stupid rigidity of mind" becomes blinding, his lack of restraint--appealing to the period's gender stereotypes--transforms him into a little more than "a silly woman." But here's the most damning phrase, the one that puts the film's final theocentricism to lie: "to the very end this spoiled child of life thought his weak tears in some way efficacious." Those "weak tears" poured forth from his eyes...
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Panic in the Streets of Newark? or Hang the Fuhrer, Hang the Furher, Hang the Furher! Sometimes the historical record tells us nothing about what happened. Case in point: the "panic" incited by Orson Welle's 1938 radio play of War of the Worlds. Some claim that the panic is an institutional artifact, the result of Hadley Cantril's attempt to legitimize social psychology. That claim's misleading, however, as Cantril's 1940 study--The Invasion from Mars: a Study in the Psychology of Panic--was written under the aegis of the already extant Princeton Radio Project. The PRP, funded by a Rockefeller grant which may have been a series of laundered CIA disbursements, opened its doors in 1937 and many of its members--apparently everyone except Adorno--became ranking officials in the intelligence community after America entered WWII. So the odds of Cantril perpetuating the "panic myth" to establish social psychology as a science are slim. Why would someone with access to the halls of power need to establish his credentials? Nevermind. My mind swarms with visions of Creationists and ID proponents lobbying the administration for intellectual responsibility. But that's fundamentalists demanding the scientific community recognize the legitimacy of their "science" through political channels. They're lobbying the administration; Cantril and his fellow PRP'ers were sought out by the government because of the accepted legitimacy of their work. If Cantril has nothing to gain professionally by disseminating the "panic myth"--i.e. if it's not invented whole-cloth--then we're left to debate the degree of "panic" involved. Here's what we know: people didn't jump off buildings people didn't stand armed on front porches people did overwhelm the telephone circuits people did try to verify the truth of the claims (esp. in New Jersey) people did believe that the nation's response to the program had been widespread panic What this means isn't that the "panic" didn't occur, only that it fell somewhere between someone actually yelling "FIRE!" in a crowded theater (400 victims hoaxed) and the latest outbreak of mad-cow disease (all beef-eating Americans). What all three situations do point to is the power of adient motives. Adient motives influence people to believe with little evidence or logic what would normally be rejected as erroneous by common sense. The adient factors involved in the "panic" Welles caused would be, naturally, the general culture of unbelievability cultivated by the news filtering in from Europe. As Rabbi Jonah B. Wise, of the Central Synagogue on 652 Lexington Avenue, said in his sermon the week after the "panic": Hitler has made a Frankenstein of himself and of Germany. Last Sunday night people in the whole of the United States were running away in panic fear from Adolph Hitler. His counterpart at the Congregation Rodeph Sholom of 7 West Eighty-third Street, Rabbi Louis I. Newman, concurred: The gullibility which masses of people showed concerning the radio broadcast gives a clear indication of the reasons why myths regarding races and religions are so easily believed. What this means is that, in the end, both the panic and dissemination of the "panic myth" is all Hitler's fault. It's directly his fault because the outlandishness...

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