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JOHN LENNON, SUNSET BOULEVARD AND THE PRICE OF FAME

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2020 marks two anniversaries. The first is the 40th anniversary of the murder of ex-Beatle John Lennon (1940 – 1980) by the social misfit, Mark David Chapman (1955 – ). The second is the 70th anniversary of the release of Sunset Boulevard. Although they are separated by some thirty years, each event acts as a reminder of what can happen when the desire for fame gets out of hand.

At 10.50pm on December 8th, 1980, Chapman watched as Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono (1933 – ) made their way through the entrance of the Dakota building, dropped into a combat stance, and fired five shots from his Charter Arms .38 Special revolver. Four bullets struck Lennon in the back and shoulder. The fifth missed and shattered a window.

Lennon was rushed to the Roosevelt Hospital where three doctors, two to three medical attendants, and nurse spent ten to twenty minutes trying to revive him. The doctors even tried opening his chest to perform a manual heart massage, but the damage to the vessels around his heart were too great. John Lennon was announced dead on arrival at 11.15pm.

Lennon had been shot at close range by four hollow-point bullets. Two had passed through his body, one had lodged itself in his upper left-arm, and a fourth had lodged itself in his aorta. The autopsy concluded that Lennon died of “hypovolemic shock, caused by the loss of more than eighty-percent of blood volume due to multiple through-and-through gunshot wounds to the left shoulder and left chest resulting in damage to the left lung, the left subclavian artery, and both the aorta and aortic arch.”

John Lennon’s murder and the plot of Sunset Boulevard mirror one another in many ways. Lennon was murdered by a deranged lunatic who believed he could achieve notoriety for himself by murdering a popstar. Similarly, Sunset Boulevard tells the story of a long forgotten, and equally demented, film star who achieves a return to fame by murdering her gigolo.

Sunset Boulevard was the product of a collaboration between Billy Wilder (1906 – 2002), Charles Brackett (1892 – 1969), and Donald McGill Marshman, Jr. (1922 – 2015). The story was based, in part, on the Evelyn Waugh (1903 – 1966) novel, The Loved Ones which recounted the author’s experiences in Hollywood and the funeral business. Wilder, who had become fascinated by American culture whilst living in Berlin, dreamt up a story about a long forgotten silent film star who resides in one of Sunset Boulevard’s grand houses. Brackett suggested making the story about the star’s comeback, whilst Marshman, Jr. suggested using it to explore the relationship between the forgotten film star and a young man.

Sunset Boulevard’s success was aided by three factors: the writing of Wilder, Brackett, and Marshman, Jr., the direction of Wilder, and the cinematography of John Francis Seitz (1892 – 1979). Seitz gave Sunset Boulevard a dreamlike quality in which fantasy and reality blend together almost seamlessly. The fantasy world Norma Desmond inhabits is shot in deep focus and made to look dark and ominous. By contrast, the real world that Joe Gillis inhabits is depicted as well-lit and filmed in a documentary-style fashion.

Numerous actors were considered to play Joe Gillis, including Fred MacMurray (1908 – 1991) and Montgomery Clift (1920 – 1966). Clift was originally signed to play the part, but withdrew from the project at the last minute. The role eventually went to William Holden (1918 – 1981).

Joe Gillis is a down and outer. Prior to meeting Norma Desmond, Gillis’ situation is so dire that he actually considers returning to his newspaper job in Dayton, Ohio. He is hounded by debt collectors, forced to use the telephone at Schwab’s drugstore because he cannot afford one of his own, and is even fired by his own manager. Gillis believes that he can live the life of an expensive playboy by reading Desmond’s script and entertaining her deluded fantasies. The problem is that he has to make a Faustian pact in order to do so.

The reason Gillis finds Desmond’s offer so tempting is that he has become jaded about the Hollywood system. He represents the writer as just a mere cog in the movie-making machine. He notes the general lack of recognition for the writer and his craft, the writer’s uncertain prospects, the likelihood of executive meddling, and the ever-present risk of plagiarism. He complains that Hollywood will reject your script if it is too original or if it is not original enough.

Norma Desmond, Sunset Boulevard’s antagonist, was based on a myriad of silent film actresses. The name is believed to be derived from the silent film star, Mabel Normand (1892 – 1930) and the film director, William Desmond Taylor (1872 – 1922), who’s sensational 1922 murder has never been solved. Suggested models for Desmond include Norma Talmadge (1894 – 1957), Mary Pickford (1892 – 1979), Pola Negri (1897 – 1987), Mae Murray (1885 – 1965), Clara Bow (1905 – 1965), and Valeska Surratt (1882 – 1962).

Norma Desmond was played by former silent film star, Gloria Swanson (1899 – 1983). Like Desmond, Swanson had been a major silent film star and was known for her beauty, talent, and extravagant lifestyle. And like Desmond, her film career faded with the coming of sound. Unlike Desmond, however, Swanson was able to accept the end of her film career, moved to New York in the early-thirties, and pursued a successful career in theatre, radio, and television.

Norma Desmond has come to symbolise an entire generation of silent film stars whose were thrust aside by the advent of sound. When her star fell, Desmond retreated into her gothic mansion and built up a fantasy world where she was still a big star. At one stage she tells Gillis that she had the floor of her ballroom tiled at the behest of Rudolph Valentino (1895 – 1926), as though Valentino was still a big star. She speaks in melodramatic tones, acts like an infatuated schoolgirl in Gillis’ company, and engages in acts of emotional blackmail through mock suicide attempts.

Desmond refuses to admit that the “parade has long since passed her by.” Incapable of functioning in the real world, she has constructed a fantasy life for herself. Any attempt to bring her out of her stupor is met with either denial or indignation. Towards the end of the movie, Gillis informs her: “Norma, you’re a woman of fifty, now grow up. There’s nothing tragic about being fifty, not unless you try to be twenty-five.” And just like John the Baptist in Salome (the 1891 Oscar Wilde tragedy Desmond has chosen to adapt), Gillis pays for the faux pas with his life.

When Sunset Boulevard premiered, Louis B. Mayer (1884 – 1957) reportedly shouted at Billy Wilder: “You bastard! You have disgraced the industry that made you and fed you. You should be tarred and feathered and run out of Hollywood.” Mayer had reason to be angry, too. Sunset Boulevard is perhaps one of the most scathing criticisms of Hollywood ever made. The film indicted Hollywood for its treatment of the writer, its obsession with youth, its toxic star system, and cult of celebrity worship.

In a world of social media and reality television, the murder of John Lennon and the story of Sunset Boulevard is more potent today than ever before. Thanks to reality TV and social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, it is far too easy for mentally unstable people to achieve easy fame. How long will it be before society produces another Mark David Chapman or Norma Desmond?

Hypocrisy and Double Standards: Reflections on the Massacre in New Zealand

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Just over a month ago, a crazed gunman entered the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch. Armed with an arsenal of weapons which included semi-automatic firearms, he began to shoot worshippers engaged in Friday prayers.

Fifteen minutes later, the gunman repeated his dastardly deed at the Linwood Islamic Centre. In the end, fifty people lay dead and thirty-six lay injured. The entire incident was broadcast live on Facebook.

Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, denounced the massacre as a ‘terrorist attack.’ She echoed the sentiments of the general public. In response to the attacks, three thousand people participated in a “march for life” in Christchurch carrying signs that read “Muslims welcome, racists not”, “he wanted to divide us, he only made us stronger”, and “Kia Kaha”, which means “stay strong” in Maori.

The Muslim call to prayer was broadcast on television and radio with twenty-thousand-people attending prayer services in the park across from the Al Noor Mosque. And two New Zealand rugby teams – the Chiefs and the Hurricanes – paused for a moment’s silence before the Super Rugby game in Hamilton.

New Zealanders have been praised for their unity and compassion in response to the attacks. But what would happen if the roles were reversed? When it is not a Westerner killing Muslims, but rather a Muslim killing Westerners? Then the response, or lack of response, is rather telling.

At this stage, I should point out that what happened in New Zealand was an act of evil. The massacre of any group of people for any reason whatsoever is an act of evil. I am not trying to condone attacks against Muslims, I am merely trying to expose to the hypocrisy of our so-called betters.

The point I am trying to make is not that the Christchurch massacre was somehow a form of justified retribution. It clearly was not. The point I am trying to make is that our leaders say one thing when an attack is perpetrated by Muslims and another when the attack is perpetrated against Muslims.

To put it bluntly, whenever a terrorist attack occurs involving a Muslim or a group of Muslims, politicians and the media are quick to downplay the Islamic elements. But if it is a Westerner targeting Muslims, or any other minority group, accusations of racism and xenophobia are repeated ad nauseum.

Whenever a Muslim, whether affiliated with a terrorist organisation or not, commits an act of terror, his actions are typically met by that all-too-common disclaimer: “it had nothing to do with Islam.” Even when the perpetrator expressly states that he is committing his heinous deed in the name of Islam it still has “nothing to do with Islam.”

The British journalist, Douglas Murray made similar observations when he appeared on Fox and Friends. “We’ve had a different response when it comes to Islamic terror”, he stated. “Consistently we find out there are people [after a terrorist attack] who knew about the extremism [and] didn’t report it, members of the community who say they don’t want to go the British police, and we find out Mosques people attended are being run by radicals.”

Murray has accused the West of resorting to the “John Lennon” response to terrorism. “They blow us up, we sing Imagine”, he says. “Our politicians still refuse to accurately identify the sources of the problem and polite society remains silent.”

I think it is self-evident that there would have been an entirely different response had it been a Muslim perpetrator attacking Westerners. There would not have been the protests, the moment’s silence, the religious and cultural messages broadcast on television and radio. Politicians and media identities would not have condemned the attacks as viscerally or as quickly as they did. There simply would not have been the same level of outrage. Instead, the Islamic elements would have been dismissed and the incident largely would have been ignored.

It is hard to believe that this kind of willful ignorance boils down to mere incompetence. To acknowledge that Islam has been responsible for a great deal of misery in the world is to go against the narrative that anyone who is not a straight, white, male, Christian is a member of a victim group. To acknowledge Islam’s role in a great deal of the misery in the world is to acknowledge that Muslims can be, and frequently are, the villains.

The left and the media, but I repeat myself, reacted to the Christchurch massacre in the way that they did because they want to elevate Muslims to the category of victim. It is a blatant attempt to sell black and white and white as black. And if you dare suggest the advertisement is misleading, you’re a bigot.

It really boils down to virtue signalling. That self-centred and cowardly habit of making vacuous comments in an attempt to make yourself look good. Public figures will now say anything that makes themselves appear more virtuous than everybody else. They resort to making statements that appear say something intelligent without really saying anything at all.

THE DECLINE OF VIRTUE

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It is a great pity that the Latin language is now considered dead. Through its death, we have lost many of the Latin words, expressions, and maxims that provided us with great wisdom and poetry. Among these is the phrase, “Panem et circenses”, or, in English, “bread and circuses.”

Panem et circenses refers to a society that uses food and mindless entertainment to keep control of its people. Such a culture does not encourage deep thought, nor does it encourage any search for meaningful or consequential in life.

What an excellent way to describe modern society and the culture that it has produced. No longer does our culture celebrate those with intelligence, moral piety, or depth of character. Instead, society has chosen to celebrate exhibitionism and licentiousness as the height of moral fortitude.

And no other family has demonstrated this fact more than the Kardashian-Jenner family. And modern culture has seen fit to reward them handsomely for it! In 2016, Forbes Magazine listed the Kardashian-Jenner family as the highest earning reality TV Stars. As of 2017, Kendall Jenner had a net worth of approximately US$18 million, Kourtney Kardashian had an approximate net worth of US$35 million, Khloe Kardashian had a net worth of US$40 million, Kylie Jenner, only twenty-years-old, had a net worth of US$50 million, Kris Kenner had a net worth of US$60 million, and Kim Kardashian had a net worth of US$175 million (she made $45.5 million in 2016/2017 alone).

But it’s hardly fair to criticise them. They have merely capitalised on the desire many people have to live a life of glamour and luxury. The Kardashians have been able to make tens-of-millions-of-dollars through their various reality TV shows, various business ventures, modelling, product endorsements, clothing lines, and more.

Of course, all this is not to say that the Kardashian-Jenner family is blameless. Years ago, a family as egotistical, petty, and immoral (what is Kim Kardashian, after all, other than a glorified porn star?) as the Kardashian family would have been treated with absolute disdain.

Not today, though. Today, the Kardashians have been able to build their empire, and it is an empire, upon shameless exploitation, self-aggrandisement, and self-promotion. They are able to reach nearly a billion people through social media and have been frequent guests on television talk shows.

What the Kardashian-Jenner phenomenon reveals is just how shallow our society has become. People have come to treat supermodels, reality TV stars, and sport’s stars as though they are royalty. The problem with this is that it encourages people to do whatever they like for a little bit of attention.

What all this boils down to is a loss of virtue. We have replaced the old heroes, the ones who encouraged courage and chivalry, with new Gods that encourage self-centredness and licentiousness. Self-expression is no longer to be expressed through the sweat of one’s brow, the depth of his character, or the faculties of his reason. Instead, it can be gained, quite easily, by posting a selfie on Instagram or Facebook.

St. Augustine defined virtue as ‘ordo amoris’ (yet another beautiful Latin maxim), or ‘order of love.’ It was his belief that every object and entity was accorded the level of love and affection that was appropriate for it to receive.

What we have today is a society that has gotten that order wrong. When people no longer honour Kings, they worship movie stars, musicians, models, reality TV stars, prostitutes, scoundrels, and gangsters instead. As C.S. Lewis wrote: “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

TRUMP TO REPEAL DACA

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President Donald Trump has officially ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, policy.

President Trump had criticised DACA during his 2016 Presidential campaign. In an official statement, President Trump stated:

“As President, my highest duty is to defend the American people and the Constitution of the United  States of America. At the same time, I do not favour punishing children, most of whom are now adults,  for the actions of their parents. But we must also recognize that we are a nation of opportunity  because we are a nation of laws.”

Trump continued:

“The legislative branch, not the executive branch, writes these laws — this is the bedrock of our Constitutional system, which I took a solemn oath to preserve, protect, and defend. In June of 2012, President Obama bypassed Congress to give work permits, social security numbers, and federal benefits to approximately 800,000 illegal immigrants currently between the ages of 15  and 36. The typical recipients of this executive amnesty, known as DACA, are in their twenties.  Legislation offering these same benefits had been introduced in Congress on numerous occasions  and rejected each time.”

President Trump reportedly plans to give US Congress six months to pass legislation that would address the hundreds of thousands of DACA immigrants. According to the Daily Beast, there are approximately eight-hundred-thousand immigrants that benefit from the DACA policy. All of these people could feasibly be deported.

DACA, which was created by an executive action in 2012, was started by Former President Obama, to protect illegal immigrants who had arrived in the United States as children.  The policy has been in legal limbo for years with ten Republican-led states threatening to sue over the alleged unconstitutionality of the policy.

Under DACA, applicants are required to prove they have immigrated to the United States illegally, must pay a US$495.00 application fee, and renew their deferment every two years. Once the applicant has been accepted, they are eligible for social security cards, welfare benefits, and are eligible for work and study permits.

Former President Obama has released a statement accusing President Trump of casting a shadow on some of America’s “best and brightest young people.”  Former President Obama stated on Facebook:

“Some 800,000 young people stepped forward, met rigorous requirements, and went through background checks. And America grew stronger as a result. But today, that shadow has been cast over some of our best and brightest young people once again.”

Former President Obama continued:

 “To target these young people is wrong – because they have done nothing wrong. It is self-defeating – because they want to start new businesses, staff our labs, serve in our military, and otherwise contribute to the country we love. And it is cruel.”

Predictably, the left has vowed to increase “resistance” against President Trump. Similarly, Democrats have accused President Trump of racism. New York Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, has claimed he will sue to protect DACA immigrants living in New York. Schneiderman stated:

“President Trump’s decision to end the DACA program would be cruel, gratuitous, and devastating to tens of thousands of New Yorkers—and I will sue to protect them. Dreamers are Americans in every  way.”

Left-wing documentary filmmaker, Michael Moore, stated on twitter:

“To the streets! Find out where the DACA protest is where u live and SHOW UP! If we are ever to be  a decent country, this is your moment.”

Karine Jean-Pierre of MoveOn.org has claimed that President Trump’s decision only serves to advance the “white supremacy agenda.” Similarly, Modern Family producer, Danny Zuker, showing true left-wing tolerance to different opinions, told Christians: “if you support [Donald Trump’s] decision to end DACA your Christianity is bulls***. But on the other hand f*** you.”

Some Republicans, including Republican Congressman from Wisconsin, Paul Ryan, have urged President Trump to hold off rescinding DACA so a legislative agenda can be achieved. Ryan stated:

“The president’s announcement does not revoke permits immediately, and it is important that those affected have clarity on how this interim period will be carried out. At the heart of this issue are  young people who came to this country through no fault of their own, and for many of them it’s the  only country they know.”

Republican Senator from Oklahoma, James Lankford, and Republican Senator from Arizona, John McCain, meanwhile have argued that children should not be punished for the actions of their parents.

In the end, rescinding DACA and other disastrous Obama-era immigration policies will be important steps in allowing the United States to reclaim control over its borders and immigration.