“We are not concerned with the very poor,” wrote E.M. Forster in a famous passage from Howards End. “They are unthinkable, and only to be approached by the statistician or the poet. This story deals with gentlefolk, or with those who are obliged to pretend that they are gentlefolk.”
The views of the loser do not typically ﬁll prominent chapters in the history books. We know what Julius Caesar thought of the barbarous tribes in Gaul and Britannia, but almost nothing about what they thought of him. His descriptions of savage resistance to his military campaigns suggest just how much the latter wanted to be civilized at the point of the imperial spear. But the word of a Caesar -- and our own guesses -- are no match for a conquered people's own written or visual accounts.
The silence or amnesia of the vanquished isn't always the result of suppression. They can also be caused by trauma -- the inability to acknowledge, much less boast about, defeat. How many New York Yankees are writing confessional books about last season?
Sunday is the existential night of the television week. The rueful end to the traditional day of rest and the last gasp of free time before the long, hard slog of school or job ahead, it's one time when many people don't have to tape or TiVo; they're home, decompressing from the weekend or taking stock of their guilt-ridden lives.
Television viewing has for decades peaked on Sunday night, and in many households never more so than over the last five years, as HBO has exploited this emotional demographic with primetime shows that often synch weirdly with unique features of the Christian Sabbath.
The writer-director David Cronenberg is often decades ahead of his peers in dramatizing the psychic perils of contemporary life, and never more so than in Videodrome, his wicked 1983 satire of McLuhanesque techno-bliss.
The plot concerns a sleazy cable-television executive named Max Renn (played all too convincingly by James Woods), who is constantly in search of exotic programming for his easily jaded audience. Late one night at the station, grousing that his soft-porn shows have lost their edge, Renn is turned on to a new channel by his technical assistant. With a signal that is rumored to originate “somewhere in the Third World,” the channel broadcasts images unlike any Renn has ever seen: shadowy scenarios of torture from inside a prison.
Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill had not yet visited the United States when they completed Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny). Luckily, they didn't let this deter them from pretending they had. Brecht's libretto, one of the most wild-eyed and unflattering portraits of this country ever put on stage, imagines a depraved boomtown in the American West ruled by gangsters, a sinkhole where justice is determined by the size of your wallet and the gravest sin is failing to pay your whiskey bill. (As an example of the show's crazy-quilt geography, "Alabama Song," famously covered by the Doors and David Bowie, seems to refer to a place somewhere in the Rockies.)