Self-absorbed and hypocritical, the United States is strikingly delusional
OPINION: In these troubled times, how do we best understand that complex beast that is the United States of America?
Do we shake our heads at mass murder, marvelling that no matter how bloody or on what scale the slaughter, the people of the republic resist legislative gun control, clinging to their precious second amendment rights like a dying drunk might his last bottle of whiskey?
Do we ponder the petulance of the bizarrely coiffured orange man, his bellicose sabre-rattling bringing the world closer to nuclear devastation with every deluded utterance?
Do we gaze in slack-jawed wonder at how the pros and cons of sportspeople kneeling during an anthem so occupies the nation's attention, not least its commander-in-chief's, when the possibility of a North Korean missile attack might reasonably be thought a priority?
* Those with the power to stop the killing have no interest in doing so
* Gun control debate rejected
* Kim Jong Un praises 'powerful' nuclear programme
* Trump says Kaepernick should have been suspended
Do we sigh at the naivete that supposes pulling down a statue can rewrite history, at the capacity of a democracy to align itself with the book-burning philosophy of Hitler or the icon-smashing lunacy of the Taliban, at librarians so incapable of understanding context that they brand Dr Seuss a racist?
He was, of course, but no more so than the entirety of Western culture. Or any culture, for that matter. When has there ever been a society free of class, race or gender prejudice? Utopians who think there has or can be now have no understanding of human nature. They are the type of folk who might begin a sentence with a phrase like "all men are created equal", then follow it up with a century of slavery and another of segregation, all the time extolling the high principle of "freedom" to the world.
As fruitful as all these avenues might be in the exploration of North American hypocrisy, I propose a more indirect approach. This week my eye was taken by a headline that declared Jane Campion and Peter Jackson superior scriptwriters to Martin Scorsese. The article was using a local angle to discuss a survey recently conducted by the journal Vulture. Forty Hollywood screenplay writers were polled as to which of their predecessors or contemporaries they thought the best. The results have been collated in the form of a top 100 list.
The first thing that should be said about this list is that it is absolutely worthless as film history. The sins of omission are so vast that a true cinema art historian would not know where to begin. Jean Renoir, for example, by any knowing estimation the most complete film-maker of the 1930s, the writer/director of The Rules of the Game, a masterpiece that has not been out of all-time top 10 lists for more than half a century, is nowhere to be found.
There's also a wilful ignoring of prestigious authors whose commitment to the art form might have been secondary, but who achieved greatness whenever they did write for the screen. Has there ever been a more literate screenplay in the English language than The Third Man?
Has there ever been a more literate screenplay in the French language than Children of Paradise? Yet novelist Graham Greene and poet Jacques Prévert are passed over by the 21st-century Tinseltown hacks.
It's not just the absences, though. The rather pathetic attempt to elevate contemporary women scriptwriters above male forebears, a rearrangement of history as much as taste and standards, results in relative assessments that can take your breath away. Nora Ephron, the scribe responsible for When Harry Met Sally, is rated 46 places ahead of Ingmar Bergman. That's not just bad history, it's bad feminism. The Swedish genius wrote far more and far deeper parts for women than Ephron ever did: 70 scripts to her 16, in fact, including Wild Strawberries, Persona and Cries and Whispers.
A political correctness of a different kind accounts for the absence of DW Griffith, rightly considered the "Father of American Film". An atmosphere of racial tension does not lend itself to the celebration of the man who made A Birth of a Nation.
Inevitability, these types of populist games say more about the era in which they are undertaken than their nominal subjects. Informed by cultural amnesia, Americentric self-absorption and outright ignorance, the Vulture list is a prime reflection of Trump's USA.
It's as if a group of fine artists got together and decided Andy Warhol was a better painter than Leonardo da Vinci, thinking the latter was a teenage ninja mutant turtle.