HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

January 28, 2008
From the Editor

John Turner


I've been watching the current Jane Austen revival on Masterpiece Theatre and so far the films have been fairly drab. In the first place, the producers have been trying to present the novels in one and a half hour movies, and that's not enough time to do justice to the stories. But limitation of time is a less serious defect than the screenwriting or the casting. From watching these programs you would not know that Jane Austen had an ounce of wit. Little of what the actors say comes from the novels, and when the writers use their own words to translate the action, it sounds like something out of a Cliff Notes volume. It may have been the worst casting mistake of all time to choose Billie Piper to play Fanny Price in Mansfield Park. Ms. Piper doubtless has some acting talent but she is the most un-Fanny-like young woman it's possible to conceive.  In fact, watching her, it's impossible to believe she has ever devoted five minutes time to imagining what human relations may have been like in any era more than twenty years ago. It will be a sad thing if modern viewers take their sense of Jane Austen from these efforts. There is some hope, however. For three weeks in February, you can see the production of Pride and Prejudice starring Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet, and she does as fine a job in the role as is possible. So, if you haven't seen it, I'd advise you to tune in on the 10th, 17th, and 24th.

Susan Faludi in The Terror Dream tells us how the events of September 11, 2001 have been fitted into the American frontier myth, where everyone is terrified all the time by fear of dark-skinned men, and the only hope comes from tall, rugged white guys arriving with guns blazing.  Ms. Faludi says we don't remember what actually happened in the past and that's why the myth can maintain such a powerful hold on us. And she goes on to remark that some Americans don't care about Westerns, and don't even care about football, but it doesn't matter. They still have to swim in the waters created by these romantic tales.

I've grown weary of Andy Rooney lately but every now and then he can still get off a good line. Last night he reminded us that if the world were to come to an end, the Wall Street Journal would have an article about it -- appearing on page 6.

In retrospect, the biggest story of the past week may be how the Palestinians blew up the wall separating them from Egypt and flooded into Egyptian territory to buy food and supplies.  There's something dramatically appealing about people surging across a former barrier to get food for their kids. Uri Avnery, an Israeli peace activist, published an interesting article about the event titled, "The Blockade of Gaza: Worse Than A Crime." You can find it posted on CounterPunch, dated January 26-27, 2008. In the interest of balance, I should note that Mr. Avnery is a controversial figure in Israel. A couple years ago, the settler-activist Baruch Marzel called on the Israeli military to carry out targeted killing of Avnery. So far, the Israeli government hasn't taken Mr. Marzel's advice.

Chalmers Johnson, author of the "Blowback" trilogy, continues to remind us that we are spending quite a bit of money on military activities. In a piece titled "Going Bankrupt: Why the Debt Crisis Is Now the Greatest Threat to the American Republic," he says that when you add up all the spending devoted to the military this year, the bill comes to more than 1.1 trillion dollars. That's a good deal more than all the rest of the world spends on military business. It's quite a hunk of money, but if President Bush isn't worried about it, why should it bother me?

Send us your thoughts. We need them.


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