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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?

A CRITIQUE OF GLOBALISM

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Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, has stated that disagreeing with globalism is like disagreeing with “the laws of gravity.” Similarly, new French President, Emmanuel Macron, another supporter of globalism, wishes to deregulate France’s ailing industry and boost freedom of movement and trade. Donald Trump’s election to the US Presidency, and the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, however, have challenged the presumed supremacy of globalism as a political force.

The roots of globalism can be traced back to the 2nd Century BC when the formation of the Silk Road facilitated the trade of silk, wool, silver, and gold between Europe and China. It wasn’t until the 20th century, however, that the idea gathered momentum. Following the Second World War, world power was to be split between America, representing the capitalist west, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, representing the communist east. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, America took it upon herself to create an undivided, democratic, and peaceful Europe.

Of course, the aim for an undivided Europe, indeed an undivided world, existed long before the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1944. Allied delegates, met at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, to establish an economic system based on open markets and free trade. Their idea gathered momentum. Today, the Monetary Fund, World Bank, and, the World Trade Centre all exist to unite the various national economies of the world into a single, global economy.

In 1950, the French foreign minister, Robert Schuman, proposed pooling Western Europe’s coal and steel producing countries together. Originally, Schuman’s objective had been to unite France with the Federal Republic of Germany. In the end, however, the Treaty of Paris would unite Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands in the European Coal and Steel Community. By 1957, the Treaty of Rome had been used to create the European Economic Community.

Globalism is an ideology which seeks to form a world where nations base their economic and foreign policies on global, rather than national, interests. It can be viewed as a blanket term for various phenomena: the pursuit of classical liberal and free market policies on the world stage, Western dominance over the political, cultural, and economic spheres, the proliferation of new technologies, and global integration.

John Lennon’s Imagine, speaking of ‘no countries’, ‘no religion’, and a ‘brotherhood of man’, acts as an almost perfect anthem for globalism. Your individual views on globalism, however, will depend largely on your personal definition of a nation. If you support globalism it is likely you believe a nation to be little more than a geographical location. If you are a nationalist, however, it is likely you believe a nation to be the accumulation of its history, culture, and traditions.

Supporters of John Lennon’s political ideology seem to suffer from a form of self-loathing. European heritage and culture are not seen as something worth celebrating, but as something to be dismissed. And it appears to be working: decades of anti-nationalist, anti-Western policies have stripped many European nations of their historical and cultural identities. In the UK, there have been calls to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes – an important, yet controversial figure. In other countries, certain areas are have become so rife with ethnic violence they are considered ‘no-go’ zones.

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Perhaps, it is the result of “white man’s burden”, Rudyard Kipling’s prophetic 1899 poem about the West’s perceived obligation to improve the lot of non-westerners. Today, many white, middle-class elites echo Kipling’s sentiments by believing that it to be their duty to save the world. These people are told at charity events, at protests, at their universities, and by their media of their obligation to their ‘fellow man.’ When it comes to immigration, they believe it to be their responsibility to save the wretched peoples of the world by importing them, and their problems, to the West.

By contrast, nationalism champions the idea that nations, as defined by a common language, ethnicity, or culture, have the right to form communities based on a shared history and/or a common destiny. The phenomenon can be described as consisting of patriotic feelings, principles, or efforts, an extreme form or patriotism characterised by feelings of national superiority, or as the advocacy of political independence. It is primarily driven by two factors. First, feelings of nationhood among members of a nation-state, and, two, the actions of a state in trying to achieve or sustain self-determination. In simplest terms, nationalism constitutes a form of human identity.

One cannot become a citizen of a nation merely by living there. Citizenship arises from the sharing of a common culture, tradition, and history. As American writer Alan Wolfe observed: “behind every citizen lies a graveyard.” The sociologist Emile Durkheim believed people to be united by their families, their religion, and their culture. In Suicide: a Study in Sociology, Durkheim surmises:

“It is not true, then, that human activity can be released from all restraint. Nothing in the world can enjoy such a privilege. All existence being a part of the universe is relative to the remainder; its nature and method of manifestation accordingly depend not only on itself but on other beings, who consequently restrain and regulate it. Here there are only differences of degree and form between the mineral realm and the thinking person.’ Man’s characteristic privilege is that the bond he accepts is not physical but moral; that is, social. He is governed not by a material environment brutally imposed on him, but by a conscience superior to his own, the superiority of which he feels.” – Suicide: a Study in Sociology (pg. 277)

Globalism has primarily manifested itself through economic means. In the economic sense, globalism began in the late 19th, early 20th centuries with the invention of the locomotive, the motor-car, the steamship, and the telegraph. Prior to the industrial revolution, a great deal of economic output was restricted to certain countries. China and India combined produced an economic output of fifty-percent, whilst Western Europe produced an economic output of eighteen percent. It was the industrial revolution of the 19th century, and the dramatic growth of industrial productivity, which caused Western Europe’s economic output to double. Today, we experience the consequences of globalism every time we enter a McDonalds Restaurant, call someone on our mobile phones, or use the internet.

Philip Lower, the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, told a group of businessmen and women at the Sydney Opera House that Australia was “committed to an open international order.” Similarly, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, Amartya Sen, argued that globalisation had “enriched the world scientifically and culturally, and benefited many people economically as well.” It is certainly true that globalisation has facilitated the sharing of technological, cultural, and scientific advances between nations. However, as some economists, like Joseph Stiglitz and Ha-Joon Chang, have pointed out: globalisation can also have the effect of increasing rather than reducing inequality. In 2007, the International Monetary Fund admitted that investment in the foreign capital of developing countries and the introduction of new technologies has had the effect of increasing levels of inequality.  Countries with larger populations, lower working and living standards, more advanced technology, or a combination of all three, are in a better position to compete than countries that lack these factors.

The underlying fact is that globalism has economic consequences. Under globalisation, there is little to no restrictions on the movement of goods, capital, services, people, technology, and information. Among the things championed by economic globalisation is the cross-border division of labour. Different countries become responsible different forms of labour.

The United Nations has unrealistically asserted globalism to be the key to ending poverty in the 21st Century. The Global Policy Forum, an organisation which acts as an independent policy watchdog of the United Nations, has suggested that imposition of global taxes as a means of achieving this reality. These include taxes on carbon emissions to slow climate change, taxes on currency trading to ‘dampen instability in the foreign exchange markets’, and taxes to support major initiatives like reducing poverty and hunger, increasing access to education, and fighting preventable diseases.

In one sense, the battle between globalism and nationalism can be seen as a battle between ideology and realism. Globalism appears committed to creating a ‘brotherhood of man.’ Nationalism, on the other hand, reminds us that culture and nationality form an integral part of human identity, and informs us they are sentiments worth protecting. The true value of globalism and nationalism come not from their opposition, but from how they can be made to work together. Globalism has the economic benefit of allowing countries to develop their economies through global trade. It is not beneficial, however, when it devolves into open-border policies, global taxes, or attacks on a nation’s culture or sovereignty. Nationalism, by the same token, has the benefit of providing people with a national and cultural identity, as well as the benefits and protections of citizenship. Nationalism fails when it becomes so fanatical it leads to xenophobia or war. The answer, therefore, is not to forsake one for the other, but to reconcile the two.

MEN BUILD CIVILISATIONS

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There is an alarming trend in media today. Type into google ‘men are useless’, ‘men are worthless’, or ‘society doesn’t need men and various articles, mostly by left wing and pro-feminist news organisations, will come up. These articles have the same basic message: men are, at best, a nuisance in the age of ‘girl power’.

Feminist philosophy is centred around the idea – a conspiracy theory in reality – that men have deliberately conspired to keep women down and take power for themselves. In reality, the differences in male and female achievements have been the result of the differing expectations thrust upon men and women and the different choices they make. As Camille Paglia wrote in her article It’s a Man’s World: “history must be seen clearly and fairly: obstructive traditions arose not from men’s hatred or enslavement of women but from the natural division of labour that had developed over thousands of years during the agrarian period and that once immensely benefited and protected women, permitting them to stay at hearth to care for helpless infants and children.” Civilisations were constructed not to keep women down, but for their benefit. The result of this natural division of labour is that men have dominated many tiers of achievement.

It could, therefore, be argued that much of feminism’s vitriol towards men is derived not from injustice, but from envy over male achievements. Second and third wave feminists have spent a great deal of time vilifying men and turning their shortcomings into symbols of pure evil. They have written a slew of anti-male books designed to erase men’s contribution to civilisation and devalue their achievements. Among the more infamous have been the End of Men by Hanna Rosin, Are Men Necessary by Maureen Dowd, and the Female Brain, in which author Louann Bridendine tells men they’ll be envious of the female brain. (Just imagine the reaction if an author wrote a book telling women they’d envious of male brains!).

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What these writers fail to understand is that men are the builders and protectors of civilisations. It has always been men, and not women, who have built the larger edifices of civilisation, who have constructed the institutions upon which civilisations are founded, who have been the pioneers in virtually every aspect of human endeavour, and who take up arms to protect civilisations (and as a natural extension, its women) from outside threats [1].

In philosophy, it is men who have given us Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Thomas Hobbes Leviathan, John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, and Arthur Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Idea. In literature, men have given us Homer’s the Iliad, Shakespeare, Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Johannes Gutenberg gave us the printing press, Alexander Graham Bell gave us the telephone, Thomas Alva Edison gave us the lightbulb, and Karl Benz gave us the car. The modern world is an epic of male achievement.

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Needless to say, society views men and women differently. Drawing from mountains of data on gender stereotypes, psychologist Alice Eagly found the existence of a ‘women are wonderful’ sentiment held by both men and women.  Women are considered women purely by virtue of their existence. By contrast, manhood has to be earnt. Civilisation and culture set up the parameters upon which men ‘earn’ their masculinity.

Much of the ‘earnt manhood’ philosophy comes from the different roles men and women have occupied in civilisations. Men have always been expected to build and protect civilisation. Women, on the other hand, have always been valued as creators of life. This is derived from a symbiotic relationship between men and women which existed for civilisation’s benefit. Civilisation was organised so male strengths could offset female weaknesses, and vice-versa.

In reality, men are both better and worse than women, and the way society views its men depends on which men it chooses to focus on. If a society chooses to focus on men who are leaders, entrepreneurs, social reformers, and innovators, it will conclude that men are ‘better than women.’ But if it chooses to focus on men who are homeless, incarcerated, mentally ill, or suffering from intellectual disabilities, it will conclude that ‘women are better than men.’

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It is motivation, not ability, that explains the vast differences in achievements between men and women. Men and women are motivated by different incentives to attempt different tasks. Research by Jacquelynne Eccles suggests that the shortage of women in maths and science is not the result of women’s inability to perform well in these fields per se, but a reflection of their different motivational choices. In simpler terms, there are fewer women in the maths and sciences because women are less inclined to study those fields. Similarly, fewer men do housework or change dirty diapers because they are not inclined to do so.

And, of course, the way one chooses to spend one’s time will reap different rewards. This may explain the often-fabled gender pay-gap myth in which feminists argue that women are deliberately and systemically paid less than their male colleagues. In fact, economic study after economic study has found that the difference in earnings between men and women are the result of different lifestyle choices men and women make. Men, on average, are willing to work longer hours and take fewer holidays. (To be fair, women do take significant time off work to raise children). This explains why men not only earn more money over the course of their working lifetimes but also why men gain more promotions and climb the ladder of success better than women.

Society encourages men to attempt high-risk ventures for the benefit of society and gives them big rewards when they manage to pull them off. (Women are not encouraged to take big risks and therefore do not reap big rewards.) It is men who are sent off to die in war, it is men who are given the dirty and dangerous jobs, and it is men who comprise the vast majority of workplace deaths. Women have never been expected to sacrifice themselves in this way and society has never seen fit to reward them in the way it has rewarded men.

It is a well-known fact among economists that men are, on average, more willing to take risks than women. One explanation for this may be the historic differences between the reproductive success of men and women. DNA analysis suggests that today’s population is descended from twice as many women as men. It would be reasonable to assume that this disparity has produced some significant personality differences.

For women, the best strategy was to play it safe, be nice, and go along with the crowd. Sooner or later, a decent man would come along with whom she could have children. It is no wonder, then, that women are not known for exploring uncharted territories or conquering far off lands. As Roy F. Baumeister, social psychologist at the University of Queensland, puts it: “we’re descended from women who played it safe.”

For men, however, the outlook was radically different. The competition between males for available females was a lot tougher. A man can choose to sit at home and play it safe if he wants to, but he probably won’t reproduce. Men, therefore, had to distinguish themselves by becoming risk-takers and innovators. Men who took big risks and managed to pull them off reproduced, men who stayed at home didn’t.

The American psychologist B.F. Skinner once wrote: “Men build society and society builds men.” It is the result of the different expectations civilisation thrust upon men and women and the different choices they make. Men are expected to ‘earn’ their manhood and are motivated by different things than women. Feminists can ridicule masculinity and male achievements as much as they like, but female achievement is only possible in civilisations that have been modernised and protected by men. And when things go wrong, as they inevitably will, it will be men, and not women, who save the day.

[1] One should also note that it has been the social and technological advances achieved by men that have freed women from lives as homemakers and child-bearers.