In a recent CNN interview with Piers Morgan, Jesse Ventura responded to a question in a manner that's unfortunately all too rare, and Morgan did not approve:
MORGAN: Should [Iran] be allowed to have [nuclear weapons]?
VENTURA: Should they be allowed to? I don't know.
MORGAN: Yes or no? You're a man of opinions. You might be running for office. We're entitled to know what you think.
VENTURA: Not right now you [aren't]. I need to study it more, I need to...
MORGAN: How convenient.
VENTURA: Yes, it is very convenient.
MORGAN: So you know about everything that happened before 9/11, but right now when you have Iran potentially nuking itself up, you don't have an opinion?
VENTURA: Well, let's leave that up to the nuclear inspectors who go in there. They will tell us whether they are nuking it up...
It's refreshing that Ventura was not afraid or reluctant to admit he didn't know enough about something to give his opinion on it, and it's interesting that such a thing was seen by Morgan as being disingenuous. It reminded me of a section in Steve Powers and Neil Postman's book, How to Watch Television News. Along with several other tips, they give the following recommendation near the end:
Reduce by one third the number of opinions you feel obligated to have.1
"One of the reasons many people are addicted to watching TV news is that they feel under-pressure to have an opinion about almost everything. Middle-class people, at least those who are college educated, seem especially burdened by an unrealistic and slightly ridiculous obligation to have a ready made opinion on any matter. For example, suppose you are attending a dinner party and someone asks you if you think the earth is undergoing permanent warming as a result of the increase in carbon dioxide emissions. You are expected to say something like, "Absolutely. In fact, I heard a discussion of this on CNN (or MSNBC or Fox News or even Entertainment Tonight) last Thursday, and it looks as if we're in for devastating climatic changes. I heard Al Gore got an Oscar for his movie about it." The fact is that you really don't know much about this matter, and TV coverage only provides the most rudimentary and fragmented information about anything. Wouldn't it be liberating to be able to say, when asked such a question, "I have no opinion on this since I know practically nothing about it"? Of course, we realize that if you gave such an answer five or six times during the course of a dinner party, you would probably not be asked back. But that would be a small price to pay for relieving yourself of the strain of storing thirty-two half-baked opinions to be retrieved at a moment's notice."
This couldn't make any more sense, yet a CNN talk show host scoffed at Ventura for doing just that! Morgan probably didn't approve, at least in part, because he has a "fragmented and rudimentary" opinion of nearly everything himself, which makes him feel informed. And because of the ubiquity of television news and information, he likely thinks that opinions don't take much effort to form, so people who don't have an opinion on a subject that's recently "been in the news" are either strategically lying about it—which he insinuates with his remark "how convenient"—or just plain lazy. (That an opinion wouldn't want to be shared because the person holding it knew it was half-baked and uninformed is irrelevant since that's what television is filled with—without it, Morgan wouldn't have a show.)
At the (no doubt subconscious) root of Morgan's annoyance might very well be what Ventura's response implies, which is 1.) that CNN and similar networks aren't doing their job, and 2.) that Morgan's own opinion is likely uninformed. If Ventura needs to investigate the subject on his own before he can feel confident, that means the average viewer—and this probably includes Morgan—shouldn't feel confident either. The questions that might logically follow—"why doesn't he (Ventura) feel confident?" and "why does he (the average viewer/Morgan) feel confident?"—would bring up too many uncomfortable complications. Fortunately for Morgan, "Why?" is almost never considered in the world of television news. (The terrorists hate our freedom, remember?)
Earlier in Postman and Powers' book, the authors note how news has largely lost its meaning and relevance since so much information is available. "Americans are no longer clear about what news is worth remembering or how any of it is connected to anything else. As a consequence, Americans have rapidly become the least knowledgeable people in the industrialized world. We know of many things (everything is revealed) but about very little (nothing is known)." Ventura recognized this but Morgan was loathe to do so, because doing so would require considering the possibility that, beneath all of his self-seriousness, he's merely another King of Distraction.
Though I'm no fan of Ventura, he's certainly on the right track in some areas, and I like that he's willing to question everything. My problem with him, however, is that he manages to turn his "question everything" attribute into a vice by using it as a way to dismiss everything that doesn't conform to his worldview, which makes him as inclined as even the average non-thinker to filter and dismiss facts and information according to their convenience.
As for the Powers / Postman book, I don't recommend it, at least not to anyone who is likely reading this. It's better for people who are quite young (early teens) or for people who haven't given much thought to how the media functions. But I do like their first lesson for watching television news, covered in the book's preface:
"Before saying anything else on the matter, we need to remark that anyone who is not an avid reader of newspapers, magazines, and books is by definition unprepared to watch television news, and always will be."
1Great advice. But I wonder what made them decide on one third. Why not one fourth? Why not one half?
As some of you know, Ray Carney has been involved in a dispute with filmmaker Mark Rappaport that recently became public. After unsuccessfully taking legal action (back-story HERE), Rappaport wrote an open letter to the film community that has since been published (or linked to) in various corners of the Internet, including places where the majority of those reading it were likely unaware of the existence of either of the two men just a few weeks prior. Such is the nature of scandal, bad behavior, hypocrisy, gossip, casting stones, etc. Others, like Jon Jost, are bringing attention to the incident with the intent of using any outrage it might foster as leverage to (possibly, hopefully) "force" Carney to return Rappaport's belongings.
Clearly Carney has brought vast damage to his reputation. Whatever small space his supporters were constantly trying to claw out for him is now lost, and probably for good. While it's true that most of the film community has long been dismissive or indifferent to Carney, whatever indifference there was has surely given way to hostility and scorn. And perhaps most damaging of all, the chance that someone heretofore unfamiliar with his work will now read it—let alone give it thoughtful consideration—has dropped close to zero. The bell has sounded, and Carney is not to be trusted.
It's for these reasons that I spent some time the week before last compiling notes for what was to be a defense of Carney's writing (to those for whom this is akin to condoning his actions, I have nothing to say). I wanted to make a case for his work, defend it against its many detractors (which is something I've wanted to do for a long time anyway), as well as possibly introduce a few people to it who were unfamiliar (or who only knew Carney by name). But after reading part 2 of the unfolding debacle (as recounted by Jost here), as well as comments in various forums, I quickly lost all interest and inspiration. I might still attempt to do this at some point in the future, but not now. Right now it feels too much like attaching the name "Ray Carney" to a group of sentences (I had planned on quoting him extensively) would instantly rob them of any value they might have. Words lose their potency and fire when they turn out to be easily discarded ideals rather than firm truths to stand behind.
For some, Carney is an original and insightful critic whose writing means a great deal (obviously I'd include myself here). He is (was?) the rare film writer capable of inspiring filmmakers and artists rather than other critics, and at his best he championed films and filmmakers with an enthusiasm that was contagious. (Ironically—and I'm certainly not alone in this—Rappaport was one of the filmmakers whose work I sought out because of Carney.)
|My copy of Cassavetes on Cassavetes|
Yet here is this very same Carney—a man who has spent much of his time promoting many of America's greatest and most underappreciated filmmakers—standing in the way of Mark Rappaport's film's being more widely seen! On top of that, he's always talked disparagingly about how America doesn't respect or support its artists, how truth is for sale to the highest bidder, etc—and now he's playing his part in that very same charade! The hypocrisy is confounding.
Some people have said we should wait to hear Carney's side before drawing any conclusions. But how long should we wait? As Jost points out, he's had ample time and opportunity to respond. Regardless of whatever reasoning he might have (or give) for keeping Rappaport's belongings, we already know he hasn't done the decent thing. Even if Rappaport outright gave Carney his films (as Carney claims), the right thing to do (legality doesn't interest me) would be to give them back when asked, especially if it's because Rappaport found an opportunity to make some money off of them. (On top of that, one would think Carney would be very excited by the prospect of people having easy access to good versions of Rappaport's films.) Even if Carney was in the middle of writing a book on Rappaport and needed the materials to finish, the right course of action would have been to explain the situation to Rappaport and see what could have been worked out. And even if the films had been unintentionally damaged or ruined and Carney was ashamed, the right thing to do would be to face up to it and apologize. But none of this happened. Instead Carney opted to behave in a manner that was nasty, selfish, rude, hypocritical, wrongheaded and dishonest, not to mention extremely disappointing to anyone who has ever defended him against those whose hatred of bow-ties seems to trump any love they might have for thoughtful debate.
Obviously, like everyone, Ray Carney has a side to him (I hate the duality metaphor—people don't have sides—but it's an easy shortcut here) that this ordeal is not just overshadowing but, at least in terms of the public imagination, outright extinguishing. It's the side that can be seen running throughout his mailbag—selfless, inspiring, encouraging, loving. It's the side that has inspired filmmakers as diverse as Andrew Bujalski, Matthew Porterfield, Aaron Katz, Ronald Bronstein, Donal Foreman, Harmony Korine, and Josh and Ben Safdie (who were also his students), to name just a few. But where is this side now? Hopefully we'll see it emerge at some point and Rappaport will be given his films back, though I wouldn't count on it. Carney probably thinks he's the victim here. (That's one of the dangers of bringing a campaign against him; it might help him reenforce this warped POV, causing him to dig his feet in ever more.)
Personally, I'm more inclined to think Carney's ego is so large that he sincerely thinks he's helping Rappaport in some backwards way than I am to think he's spent his entire life writing things he doesn't truly believe and feel. But even if that's the case, the fact that he doesn't realize he's dropping the lifeboat on the head of the person he's trying to help (to borrow a phrase from his book on Mike Leigh) is beyond bewildering. Or maybe he recognizes the reality of the situation and is so utterly self-obsessed that he simply doesn't care. Whichever the case, it speaks to something deeply troubling about his mind.