Todd Gitlin

Todd Gitlin is a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University and the author of Letters to a Young Activist. He is currently working with Liel Leibovitz on a book about chosen peoples.

Recent Articles

State of the Debate: Indelible Colors

A book by two political theorists argues that new, cultural definitions of race can be as insidious as the old, biological ones.

WORK DISCUSSED IN THIS ESSAY K. Anthony Appiah and Amy Gutmann, Color Conscious: The Political Morality of Race (Princeton University Press, 1996). R aces have godlike power in history. Like gods, there is good reason to doubt that they exist, but the belief that they do exist has enormous consequences. Of course, races are also unlike gods in a particular way. Since the middle of the nineteenth century, the claim that races exist has purported to be scientific. That is, from physical attributes (skin color, nose shape, hair texture), moral and intellectual essences are derived. Not all the pseudoscientists go all the way to the end of the line at Nuremberg. Some get off with Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, affecting compassion for the differently abled, and wrapping their charges in statistical hocus-pocus so intricate that it took a technical book to refute it ( Inequality by Design: Cracking the Bell Curve Myth) , by a group of sociologists at the University of California at...


Revulsion against television violence offers cheap indignation. Unfortunately, imagebusting does little about the deeper sources of our violent society.

G uns don't kill people, picture tubes do. Or at least that seems to be the message behind the clangor of current alarms about television violence. Don't misunderstand: I have denounced movie violence for more than two decades, all the way back to The Wild Bunch and The Godfather. I consider Hollywood's slashes, splatters, chainsaws, and car crashes a disgrace, a degradation of culture, and a wound to the souls of producers and consumers alike. But I also think liberals are making a serious mistake by pursuing their vigorous campaign against violence in the media. However morally and aesthetically reprehensible today's screen violence, the crusades of Senator Paul Simon and Attorney General Janet Reno against television violence, as well as Catharine MacKinnon's war against pornography, are cheap shots. There are indeed reasons to attribute violence to the media, but the links are weaker than recent headlines would have one believe. The attempt to demonize the media distracts...

Elaine Scarry's On Beauty and Being Just

Every age has its ways of despising art-which also are ways of taking it seriously, for you don't smash idols you don't fear. Art can be despised with thumbscrews, bonfires, or money. It can be smothered in Glad Wrap: feel-good art meant to lie about how happy the proletariat is, say, or how cute the world is. The rage against art-- from Plato to Mao Tse-tung-has been no respecter of geography or politics. And it has been no respecter of pro fessions: Artists can be good at it, too. Short of despising, there is dismissing-art can be condemned not only as deception but also as distraction from duty. In the 1960s, radicals who liked to quote poetry favored Bertolt Brecht's "To Posterity," which includes these lines (as translated by H.R. Hays): Ah, what an age it is When to speak of trees is almost a crime For it is a kind of silence about injustice. Almost a crime-a nice touch, a saving grace. The many serious writers who have commended this poem, including Nadine Gordimer and Athol...