Thursday, October 16, 2003

AN APOLOGY: Nothing's worse, as a writer, than so mangling your own use of words that you are heard to have said something radically different than what you wished to express. Of mangling words, I am guilty.

Monday I wrote an item about the disgusting movie Kill Bill, which so glorifies violence as to border on filth. I was indignant that a major company whose work is mainly good, Disney, would distribute such awfulness, in this case through its Miramax subsidiary. I wondered how any top executive could live with his or her conscience by seeking profits from Kill Bill, oblivious to the psychological studies showing that positive depiction of violence in entertainment causes actual violence in children. I wondered about the consciences of those running Disney and Miramax. Were they Christian? How could a Christian rationalize seeking profits from a movie that glorifies killing as a sport, even as a form of pleasure? I think it's fair to raise faith in this context: In fact I did exactly that one week earlier, when I wrote a column about the movie The Passion asking how we could take Mel Gibson seriously as a professed Christian, when he has participated in numerous movies that glorify violence.

But those running Disney and Miramax are not Christian, they're Jewish. Learning this did in no way still my sense of outrage regarding Kill Bill. How, I wondered, could anyone Jewish--members of a group who suffered the worst act of violence in all history, and who suffer today, in Israel, intolerable violence--seek profit from a movie that glamorizes violence as cool fun? Below is the paragraph I wrote that's causing the stir (to read the item in its entirety from the beginning click here). I quote it verbatim so that you can see how easy it is, on subjects like these, for good righteous anger to turn offensive by a careless choice of words:

Set aside what it says about Hollywood that today even Disney thinks what the public needs is ever-more-graphic depictions of killing the innocent as cool amusement. Disney's CEO, Michael Eisner, is Jewish; the chief of Miramax, Harvey Weinstein, is Jewish. Yes, there are plenty of Christian and other Hollywood executives who worship money above all else, promoting for profit the adulation of violence. Does that make it right for Jewish executives to worship money above all else, by promoting for profit the adulation of violence? Recent European history alone ought to cause Jewish executives to experience second thoughts about glorifying the killing of the helpless as a fun lifestyle choice. But history is hardly the only concern. Films made in Hollywood are now shown all over the world, to audiences that may not understand the dialogue or even look at the subtitles, but can't possibly miss the message--now Disney's message--that hearing the screams of the innocent is a really fun way to express yourself.

I'm ready to defend all the thoughts in that paragraph. But how could I have done such a poor job of expressing them? Maybe this is an object lesson in the new blog reality. I worked on this alone and posted the piece--what you see above comes at the end of a 1,017-word column that's otherwise about why movies should not glorify violence. Twenty minutes after I pressed "send," the entire world had read it. When I reread my own words and beheld how I'd written things that could be misunderstood, I felt awful. To anyone who was offended I offer my apology, because offense was not my intent. But it was 20 minutes later, and already the whole world had seen it.

Looking back I did a terrible job through poor wording. It was terrible that I implied that the Jewishness of studio executives has anything whatsoever to do with awful movies like Kill Bill. Nothing about Eisner or Weinstein causes any movie to be bad or awful; they're just supervisors. For all I know neither of them even focused on the adoration-of-violence aspect until the reviews came out. My attempt to connect my perfectly justified horror at an ugly and corrupting movie to the religious faith and ethnic identity of certain executives was hopelessly clumsy.

Where I failed most is in the two sentences about adoration of money. I noted that many Christian executives adore money above all else, and in the 20-minute reality of blog composition, that seemed to me, writing it, fairness and fair spreading of blame. But accusing a Christian of adoring money above all else does not engage any history of ugly stereotypes. Accuse a Jewish person of this and you invoke a thousand years of stereotypes about that which Jews have specific historical reasons to fear. What I wrote here was simply wrong, and for being wrong, I apologize.

Every reporter who has called me today has asked me my faith. Since I say this is relevant for others, it's relevant for me. I'm a Christian. I worship in one of the handful of joint Christian-Jewish congregations in the United States. This website describes the Bradley Hills Presbyterian (USA) side of the church. This website describes Bethesda Jewish, a Klal Yisrael ("All Israel") congregation that shares the same worship spaces and finances. Two years ago I wrote in THE NEW REPUBLIC of the Bradley Hills-Bethesda Jewish joint congregation, "One of the shortcomings of Christianity is that most adherents downplay the faith's interweaving with Judaism." I and my family sought out a place where Christians and Jews express their faith cooperatively, which seems to me a good idea. Bad idea: writing poorly about this, and being misunderstood. Again, I'm sorry.



Easterblogg's subsequent groveling apology
Outrage in Hollywood New Republic editor accuses "Jewish executives" Harvey Weinstein and Michael Eisner of money grubbing with violent movie "Kill Bill"
Oct 22, 2003: Easterbrook dismissed by ESPN
The above news item is reproduced without editing other than typographical
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