Month: August 2014

Victims, Then and Now

The Seventh Victim

 

As long-time readers of this site already know, we’ve been watching and reviewing films from the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list in approximately chronological order, and we’re currently involved in the 1940s.  Most films on this list have been reviewed to death by critics, so we try to give it a bit of a more global view, using the clearness of hindsight to aid us in the process.

Today’s film isn’t all that well known, and is RKO’s The Seventh Victim, which was billed, back in it’s day (1943), as a horror movie.  This probably isn’t surprising, as the plot centers around a Satanist cult, which, one imagines, was seriously frightening to audiences seventy years ago.  

Seventh Victim - Subway Scene

If it happened to be filmed today, it would probably be classified as a suspense flick rather than a horror movie.  And that brings up an interesting dichotomy in the way the world has evolved.

No one will be surprised to hear that moviegoing audiences are inured to issues that were taboo in the 1940s.  Violence, gore, sex and, yes, Satanism, all need to be VERY extreme to get more than a passing glance in a film.  Even images of sex have gotten so easy to find online that the days of teenagers staying up late in the hope of catching a glimpse of a breast or (wonder of wonders) some pubic hair on late-night cable are long gone – which is likely to kill the air time of Madonna’s Body of Evidence!

 

The strange thing is that, while this was all going on, the tolerance of society for violence and gore have gone way down.  Today, one can go to jail for the slightest physical confrontation in any part of the civilized world, even if no one is seriously hurt.  And gore?  Let me ask you something: when was the last time you slaughtered your own dinner?

Of course, some will say that violence is still happening, and it’s terrible and the world is such a violent place, and it’s getting worse, and…  breathless pause to see if anyone is listening.

And yes, there are still some wars out there, but they are extremely localized and actual fighting affects a much smaller proportion of the world’s population than ever anything in the 11th century would have (to take a random example).  In fact, things that today would make front-page news in most places, such as a brigand’s attack and murder / rape of the occupants of a caravan, were commonplace occurrences barely of note unless one of the murdered parties was a friend.

The world, despite what alarmists like to state, is not getting more violent.  Quite the contrary.

So why have movies moved so far that The Seventh Victim is more quaint than shocking (still good, just not scary)?  

Gore AND sex...

One theory says that popular media sublimated the fears of the Cold War…  but that’s a bit too much of a sociological leap for us here at CE to make (we tend towards individual interpretations of phenomena – herd patterns are best left to people who study livestock).  So we suggest that either violence has become acceptable as it touches individuals much less than it used to and is therefore fair game for a movie or that the individual need for violence is coming through our mass entertainment.

And Satanism?  Hell, reading their commandments makes them look sane compared to some.  OK, maybe not quite sane…

 

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Not Sparkly, Never Sparkly

o-cemetery-at-night-facebook

Baron H is back as a guest blogger today (if you missed his earlier installments, you can read them here and here).  As always, he has a particularly… long view of mortal affairs which is refreshing.  And yes, we do believe he is still the internet’s only undead blogger.

Salutations Classically Educated Readers!

I could blame Stephanie Meyer for the recent misunderstandings I’ve been seeing regarding the undead.  After all, you can only see so many movies which portray the undead as effortlessly glamorous before you start believing the PR.  And I’m told she’s sold a number of books as well.

But I’ve been here longer than any mortal, so I don’t actually blame Meyer. Stoker, and then early Hollywood were truly more instrumental in giving us this image.  I guess it’s too late to try to get the unwashed to understand this (contrary to popular belief, people have not been getting dumber in the past few years.  Almost every mortal on the planet has been an imbecile since I can remember, and that’s more than a few centuries), but I can at least make an appeal to the intelligent readers out there.  Both of you should probably be able to catch the gist.

Vampires are not glamorous by nature.  We are just, to take a horrid neologism and apply it, regular guys.  In order not to let the side down, it is imperative that we understand and follow the rules of etiquette.  We might not have any of the olfactory disadvantages of zombies, or the aural handicaps of banshees, but we do need to work – imagine if we let ourselves go.  We’d all look like Nosferatu!

Still, this aside was not the main thrust of this particular post (although I remind you that etiquette is always the most important thing – be you mortal or Aikanaka).  I wanted to talk about documentary channels.  

It used to be that the people who watched The History Channel, or Nat Geo, were a bit snobbish.  Intellectuals who were too good to share the same mind-numbing programming that everyone else seemed to enjoy.

Now it seems that the executives at these places have either realized that that market was too small or have succumbed to the temptation of going after the brain-dead hordes.  So you get reality TV, Celebrity Biographies and, worst of all, a whole slew of programs with names like Ancient Aliens and Paranormal Encounters.

This last one is worrying.

Now, as a member of the undead community, I am all for a bit of information and greater understanding.  But, when you put every kook and whacko who can shake off the effects of the drugs long enough to do an interview on the screen and let him ramble, you are creating a dangerous precedent, which gets even worse when you treat it as credible evidence.

This isn’t documentary filmmaking.  This is shameless pandering to the lowest common denominator disguised as documentary.  Documentaries shouldn’t be stealing their ratings from the audience for Big Brother.  And I certainly can’t condone the way these fictionistas portray ghosts!

But the true reason I gnash my teeth whenever these subhuman programs come up is that I am one of those who were among the original target.  I will gladly watch a documentary about napoleon for six hours, but give me an episode of Ancestral Aliens, and…  well, let’s just be thankful that vampires can’t throw up (Bet you didn’t know that – Ed.).

But one of the keys to good etiquette is that one must not fight emerging trends, but find a way to incorporate them.  So I’m thinking of starting a program to portray undead as they really are.  I can sell it to one of these channels.

And I can eat any executive who declines.

With no sparkliness whatsoever.

Salutations,

Baron H

 

USS Greer – The War Grows Ever Closer

USS Greer

 

In another excerpt from Stacy Danielle Stephens’ amazing Historical novel, we get yet another glimpse into the less well-remembered parts of WWII.  Can you tell we love these little slices of history? (you can read some of the earlier ones here, here, here and here – highly recommended!)

On the morning of September 4th, 1941, a British Aircraft notified the USS Greer, a destroyer, that a U-boat ten miles away had submerged. The Greer promptly located the German vessel. Ninety minutes later, the British plane dropped four depth charges and returned to its base. When another two hours had passed, the submarine fired on the Greer, which turned to avoid the torpedos, then dropped ten depth charges. U-652 was the first German target attacked by Americans, although neither Congress nor the Reichstag had declared war. Not detecting the U-boat, the Greer made for Greenland early that afternoon, happening across U-652 once more, and dropping nine more depth charges before both craft withdrew, undamaged.

 

* * *

 

     On September 11th, 1941, during a fireside chat, President Roosevelt gently, but firmly, moved Americans closer to the reality of the war their navy was already engaged in. He spoke of the Greer incident in the context of similar incidents which had occurred in the previous few months, explaining that it was not the number but the nature of such incidents which compelled him to issue orders that Axis vessels entering waters deemed essential to US interests were to be fired upon. Since German vessels were known to be under orders not to fire on American ships that had not first fired on them, this new order from the Commander-in-Chief was seen by many of his Republican opponents as an insidiously devised ruse to incite a war he still could not move Congress to declare.

franklin-roosevelt-prepares-for-a-june-5-1944-fireside-chat-during-which-he-reported-that-rome-was

     Although Roosevelt was not lying when he said that the U-boat had fired first on the Greer, he was not being completely honest, either. Submerged, a U-boat would have no way of knowing whether the depth charges exploding around them had been deployed by an airplane or a ship, or whether they were American or British. Aware that American vessels were not to fire on vessels which had not attacked them, Oberleutnant zur See Georg-Werner Fraatz, commanding U-652, assumed he was returning fire against a British Destroyer[1]. There is every reason to believe that his misapprehension was brought about deliberately through the collusion of the United States Navy and the Royal Air Force.
  

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[1] That is what he recorded in his logbook. There is no indication that this entry was falsified or altered.

The Pale, Small, Blue Dot

Pale Blue Dot

If anyone asks what the most important words ever spoken by mankind are, you have our permission to use the following four: “Houston, Tranquility Base here.”

We are assuming here that they will limit you to around four or five words.  If you have more, you can continue the phrase, but it kind of ruins the subsequent argument, because part of the fun is seeing if the recipient knows what you’re referring to.

Pause for those still trying to figure it out…

The next words are, of course, “The Eagle has landed”, which concludes the first non-technical phrase spoken by men on the moon (it seems the first actual words were “contact light”, which was an instrument reading and nowhere near as fun).

Eight words, and easily the most important ever spoken by a human.

Many people will disagree with this.  And those people will fall into many groups, but mostly, they are people with a serious lack of a sense of proportion, created by various subjective readings of the world.

Let’s dismiss the easiest group first.  The lunatics (in an ironic turn of phrase).  This is the group composed of people who insist that mankind hasn’t walked on the moon, that it was all faked in a Hollywood basement.  This same group will also tell you that astrology is a science, just like math*, that a bunch of Templar-influenced Illuminati run the world (see here for our other thoughts about this), and that you should really stop limiting yourself to what science says is correct, as there are so many things science just can’t explain.  Then they’ll recommend a homeopathic doctor.

Lunar Footprint

While you’ll never be able to make thinking beings out of this group, you can at least make them think a little by asking them why the Soviet Union never denied the moon landings.  If that doesn’t work, just send them here; with any luck they’ll spend so much time attempting to refute the overwhelming evidence that they won’t annoy you again.

The other group are more insidious.  They are articulate, educated people who have lived their entire lives under the mistaken assumption that there are more important things to do with public funds than explore space.  These people will, with perfectly straight faces, and a look of concern, point out that there have been many more important words spoken in history.

“There have been declarations of war,” they will say.  “Declarations of peace.  Announcements of the curing of a disease.  Even Bell’s ‘Mr. Watson – Come here – I want to see you,’ changed the world more thoroughly. Hell,” they will say, “have you forgotten Churchill’s speech about the many and the few?  Or the founding sparks of the French revolution? Civil rights announcements!  Friends, Romans, Countrymen! Are you actually serious?”  They are likely quie agitated at this point.

Sadly, many intellectuals feel this way.  That’s bad enough, but so do a lot of people who aren’t intellectuals, which in this case is worse.  You see, the great mass of voters are basically the group that has kept humanity on the ground.  Do you really see the people supporting space exploration when the alternative is more health benefits?  Neither do I…  the solid salt of the Earth isn’t noted for being particularly far-sighted.  This doesn’t stop governments with billions of dollars to spend from listening to them.

And yet, what all of these people are forgetting is that every single one of the “acceptable” candidates for “humanity’s most important words” have one thing in common.  They were all spoken on one single planet far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy which orbits a small unregarded yellow sun.  It is where most of human history has transpired, but it is also the prison of humanity until we can break the chains.

Just by being spoken on a different world, Armstrong’s phrase immediately overcomes them.  Look at it from a wider angle, and it becomes clear: the universe is huge, Earth is inconsequential, and the occurrences on its surface are clearly less important than those in a wider area.  Anyone who feels that humanity’s future is on the planet needs to get an urgent transfusion of ambition and the capacity to dream.

Fortunately, for the first time in decades, the future of meaningful human exploration is actually looking up.  China, of course, is planning to go to the moon, to follow its unmanned rover with manned missions, and to do it soon.  They don’t really have to worry about popular opinion, fortunately, plus, the program seems to actually have plenty of support.  Hopefully they’ll ignite the west, the Russians and the Indians.

But things are also looking up in the West.  The Russian space agency has recently completed it’s first craft built with no Soviet technology, and space tourism is still booming.  Getting humanity into space means getting people into space… and space tourism programs are doing that in relatively good numbers.

Martian Surface

Virgin Galactic is another venture that is definitely going to help.  As private companies take more people into space, costs will go down (strange that governments never seem to manage that), and more people will go into space.  It’s exciting to see this starting, and all the spaceports being built… with places as unlikely as Scotland leading the charge.

Even the US, primary culprit in the stumble on the road to space, is developing a better spaceflight roadmap.  Not only has it contracted out many lift operations to private rockets (SpaceX and Orbital Sciences currently fly to the International Space Station – and both are developing manned vehicles), but even the NASA itself is developing a new manned program, wonder of wonders.  They seem to want to harness an asteroid, bring it a bit closer to earth and send people out to have a look.  Seeing how dormant NASA has been since the shuttle era, it’s nice to see something that ambitious being seriously developed.  The launcher and capsules are in advanced testing stage and are BIG.

The ultimate prize for having perspective, however, must go to Mars One.  This Dutch company has understood that, while humanity as a group will always have to succumb to the whims of its most plodding members, there will always exist individual humans who have a bit more vision.  This company is planning to start sending humans on one way trips to Mars in 2024. They had 200,000 volunteers for the first call – and they are pretty realistic about how to fund the efforts.  One can only hope they succeed.

Perhaps, with all this private activity in space, we can soon hear words that are more important, on an objective scale, than Armstrong’s.  After all, staying on one planet simply dooms us to insignificance on any valid scale.

*This was an exact phrase said to the editor of this site.

Classically Educated: Greatest Hits Volume I

Classical Columns

One of the nice things about being able to see the numbers on a blog as eclectic as this one is that you never really know what is going to resonate with readers.  Sometimes, a post goes up which looks like it will immediately become popular… and it disappears without a trace.  Others look less likely to attract a wide audience, and they work well.  And then there are the ones that don’t attract much immediate readership but keep getting visited, time and time again by people in the most unlikely locations.

When the blog started, most of our traffic came from direct referrals and our Fan Page, but more and more, we’re seeing most of the traffic arriving from search engines and simply people who stumbled on us, read the manifesto, liked what they saw, and pop back occasionally.

Guest posts are always popular… but then, so are posts by the CE team, so no clue there!

So, without further ado, we are proud to present the most popular posts from our first half-year of life:

10: (Tie) Aerobics for my Brain and What the Reading of Blake’s Poetry Awoke in Me.  These two epitomize what Classically Educated stands for.  The first is about the mental gymnastics of traveling to a new place… while the second delves into literature, and the sensations it inspires.

9: On words, as they relate to worldview.  A bit of a rant, a bit of philosophy, and a post which asks questions about differing types of human nature.  Of course, the answers probably lie within us!

8: Tango: The Forgotten Argentine Passion. The first in a series of Tango articles that made the list, and which gives one view of how the dance is seen in more modern days.

politically-correct-hypocrisy

7: PC Runs Amok in Science Fiction Community.  Yes, we know that, depending on your worldview, political correctness is either running amok everywhere, or there isn’t really enough of it to protect the disenfranchised.  But even the most die-hard believer will have a giggle at the silliness that is PC insanity in the tiny Science Fiction Community. It is much harder to take earnest, holier-than-thou, PC preaching seriously when the person doing it writes about goblins…

6: A New Model For the Publishing Business?  More literature in CE…  A lot of the posts on this list have to do with the letters, despite this kind of post not being all that frequent.  Probably says something about our readers!

5: A Trip To New York on Hydrogen Wings.  It Was Just One of Those Things.  Admit it.  Everyone is fascinated by airships and especially the transatlantic Zeppelins of the thirties.  OK, don’t admit it, but this guest post is eternally popular, which is proof enough for us!

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4: Tango For Export.  The second half of the Tango series deals with the dance outside the borders of Argentina, and gives a good overview of what to expect if you ever come into contact with it.  The fact that it remains popular will likely mean many new dances in the short term!

3: Bad Management Fads – A Classically Educated List.  Well, Scott Adams sells a ton of Dilbert material, so it’s not really surprising that this one makes the list.  The corporate world has done a LOT of stupid in its history, and that is reflected here.  Plus, people love lists.

2: 10 Reasons why it Sucks to Be Single, Female and Smart.  This masterpiece of reality and rueful laughter hits the nail on the head better than anything that Bridget Jones may have said or done. Guest poster Scarlett just knows her stuff. Plus, people love lists, as we have mentioned.  They also seem to love romance columns.

Drumroll!

Driving home after the party

1: Party Like it’s 1925.  We like to think that this one is on top because it epitomizes everything good about Classically Educated’s readership: they are smart, well-educated, interested in history, and have a bit of a dark and twisted sense of humor.  Also, they are irreverent, and likely to march to their own drummers.  Plus, of course, people love lists.

 

Looking over the list now, it’s clear that the initial objectives – eclecticism, interesting articles, and use of the Harvard comma – have been achieved.  But, as always, opinions to the contrary are welcome!

The Ultimate Elegy?

Christ Church college Quad Oxford

Is there anything quite as poignant as a remembrance of more innocent times written in the midst of war – and a war with an uncertain outcome at the time of writing, at that?  Possibly, but it still hits very hard.

Evelyn Waugh is possibly best remembered for his more mordant work, of course, but Brideshead Revisited has to be one of the best books about a lost era that one can read, heightened perhaps by the simple truth that the protagonist, and his contemporaries knew that they were living the end of what had been a glorious age.  

It is a fact that everyone living in the inter-war years in England had to know that the times they were a changin’.  But though they had hopes, none knew whether what was coming would be better or worse… and the horrors of just how bad “worse” could be were extremely fresh in their minds.  When this insecurity was combined with the uncertainty of Waugh himself at the time of writing – in the midst of the second world war – even this slim, seemingly superficial volume can hit like a hammer.

Arcadia

It’s tempting to compare this with other writers of idylls, particularly Wodehouse, but while with Wodehouse the reader wants to be there, with Waugh, the reader mourns the loss.  Wodehouse, for this reason, is much nicer to go back to; he reconstructs the utopia in the reader’s present, making it seem alive.  Waugh, on the other hand, makes it plain that Arcadia is gone… and it hurts, because Waugh’s world seems much more real.

But at time, especially in the beginning, this is a book that transports the reader powerfully to another era, another place, and that is its lasting beauty.  The charm certainly isn’t in the story itself although the progression is interesting and absorbing, but is let down by an ending is that is unsatisfying and with ultimately uninteresting religious symbolism.

But the imagery…  It’s impossible to read this book and not be immediately overwhelmed by the sense of loss for the more gentle times in England, where every day was a sunny spring in the countryside around Oxford, and where pain, suffering and responsibility existed only in the dark writings of Dickens.

Of course, it is a time that never truly existed – at least not for everyone – but that won’t keep you from pining for it.