Daily Archives: August 28, 2010

Saturday Night Documentary: “Outfoxed”


Today is the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s historic “I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial (video here).  Self-confessed “rodeo clown” Glenn Beck chose to hijack the occasion to give a speech of his own on the very spot that great speech was delivered (or, as Beck hilariously put it in a smarmy show of false humility, “a few steps down” from the actual spot).  That makes this an opportune time to take a closer look at Fox News as the nihilistic propaganda machine it really is.

Louis Menand in a recent online posting at the New Yorker writes about the documentary scene after Fahrenheit 9/11, including this powerful, widely viewed but never distributed indictment of Fox News, Outfoxed.

Here’s Menand:

One common reaction to “Fahrenheit 9/11” is that it shows you things that have never been seen before—the “Pet Goat” and “Now watch this drive” clips, scenes of carnage and brutality in Iraq, Saudi-schmoozing, Ashcroft singing, Al Gore being forced to reject repeated petitions by black representatives to contest the official counting of the electoral-college votes in the 2000 election. It may be that most of these things were shown somewhere, but the movie is designed to make audiences feel that they have never been seen, or that, having been seen, they have been deliberately suppressed. Robert Greenwald’s “Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism,” a movie that has yet to tempt a distributor but has been exhibited in special screenings, and that circulates, samizdat style, on videotape and DVD, is a forceful reminder of how vicious the cheerleading is. “Outfoxed” ought to be a redundant exercise. The right-wing bias of Fox News, whose laughable motto is “Fair and Balanced,” is not something that ought to require a documentary to uncover. But where is the mainstream media? The answer is that the mainstream media is a place where Tucker Carlson is identified as a “political analyst.” Reporting on television is now accompanied by so much partisan yapping disguised as analysis, and there is such a panic to get anything on the air that comes over the transom regardless of the source (like pictures of John Kerry in a silly hat), that the other networks have to feel uncomfortable about accusing anyone else of confusing news with opinion. “Outfoxed” suggests, in fact, that competing news organizations, like CNN, having seen that flag-waving attracts viewers, are starting to imitate Fox.

There may be a few viewers out there who continue to confuse Bill O’Reilly with Eric Sevareid. “Outfoxed” will disabuse them.

The rest of the film after the jump.

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Centre for Comparative Literature: The Official Student Response


Below is a statement in response to the July 15, 2010 memorandum from Vice Dean Baker, available here, presented to Vice Dean Baker and Vice Dean Smyth (SGS) in a meeting on August 24, 2010.  Link to the statement here.

The recommendation of the University’s Strategic Planning Committee to disestablish the Centre for Comparative Literature as part of the creation of a new School of Languages and Literatures has caused considerable alarm across the University of Toronto and throughout the global community of humanities scholars. One need only peruse the dozens of letters written by the world’s leading humanists, or scan the thousands of signatures on the petition to preserve Comparative Literature, or spend a few minutes assessing the growing media coverage of the SPC’s proposal, to realize that the Centre is seen globally as unique and preeminent in its mandate and accomplishments, that it stands as one of Canada’s major contributions to humanities scholarship, and that its proposed disestablishment is widely perceived as a symbolic attack on the humanities in general and as a particular statement about Canada’s new scholarly priorities. There now remains no doubt what the proposed disestablishment of the Centre would mean for U of T’s reputation and prestige in the humanities; the voices from our peer institutions have weighed in and continue to weigh in, and their opinions are virtually unanimous. General bewilderment surrounds the SPC’s proposal, which has, so far, failed to publicly offer a defense of itself in budgetary terms and, more importantly, failed to articulate any coherent intellectual justification for its recommendations, including the creation of a School of Languages and Literatures and most especially the disestablishment of the Centre for Comparative Literature. That these proposals were made by a committee of 12 members whose proceedings and deliberations remain confidential only increases the general feeling of isolation, disregard, and inability to understand the proposal or its justifications. The directors and faculty of all the affected departments and centres are left to feel angry and slighted, and to conclude that their disciplines were not understood or treated with respect by the members of the SPC.

No one, however, has been more shocked, confused, hurt or anxious than the current students of the Centre for Comparative Literature. Not only do we concur with the sentiments of our administrators and professors, as well as those of our peers around the world, but we must also consider the implications of this proposal for our remaining years as graduate students at U of T and for our careers as professional academics in the field of comparative literature. Of course, this assessment leaves us with many troubling questions, some shared by all and some highly individual—concerning our own research and supervisory needs. We thank Vice-Dean Baker and Vice-Dean Smyth for making time to field our questions in person and sincerely hope that this session will help us as students to better understand the positions and priorities of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and help the Faculty, represented by Vice-Dean Baker, and the School of Graduate Studies, represented by Vice-Dean Smyth, to better understand our concerns, positions and priorities.

In the interest of maximizing clarity and productivity during our brief meeting together, we respectfully put forward the following points, agreed upon by the members of our student body, as a foundation for today’s discussions:

1) We strongly disagree with the SPC’s assessment of our Centre as home to an outmoded discipline whose work is done. The backhanded compliment that “the Centre has succeeded beyond its wildest dreams” simply does not ring true. The notion of a discipline too successful for its own good is absurd and not applied to any other discipline whose central texts are widely read. We strongly assert that, first, the SPC is incorrect to say that the teaching of critical theory is now widespread in the humanities disciplines. This is not the case, as even a cursory perusal of course lists in the national-literature departments reveals. For this reason, students from all these departments come to comparative literature for coursework in critical theory, and some of these departments require their students to take courses in comparative literature in order to obtain a “theory” minor. Moreover, we remind the SPC that, although comparative literature was historically the home of continental philosophy, disseminating this body of thought was never the sole purpose of comparative literature but only one of its pragmatic tasks. We find it hard to believe that any serious scholarly assessment of the work done in comparative literature at U of T, in its relation to the work done by other humanities departments, would find it redundant, antiquated, or superfluous. Therefore, we are suspicious that such an assessment was not undertaken. If it was, we respectfully request to see it. If it was not, we respectfully request that it be undertaken in good faith and with full transparency before any further discussion of comparative literature’s ostensible redundancy.

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St. Augustine of Hippo


On this date in 430 St. Augustine of Hippo died (born 354).

Yesterday we quoted Frye on Hegel from his student essay written in 1933, “The Augustinian Interpretation of History.”  That essay is a good place to start today too.  In the essay, by the way, Frye cites a quote from Hegel that might be kept in mind: “We learn from history that we never learn anything from history” (CW 3, 193).

First then, for Augustine, the political problem, the collapse of the Roman Empire.  It was easy to accuse the upstart religion to which Augustine belonged of having caused the downfall, and the first ten books [of The City of God] are taken up with defending the Christians and attacking the pagans.  For our present thesis this is important in clearing the ground for the doctrine of the two cities.  The immediate, obvious opposition Augustine had to contend with was that of paganism and Christianity; not until that was outlined could the theory of the two cities follow.  The latter is an abstract conception of some difficulty, and to introduce it at the outset would upset what balance the book still retains.  Although it is not deliberately a philosophy of history, but an apologetic, the germ is there.  Almost at once Augustine outlines the essential change that the coming of Christianity has made in the world.  Christianity is not responsible for the fall of Rome (I, i), in the sense that the Romans have failed through deserting the gods that could have helped her.  These same gods lost Troy (I, iii); how should they preserve Rome?  On the other hand, Christianity has brought an entirely new note of gentleness: Rome’s Christian conquerors spared her to an extent which Rome herself never practiced toward her foes (I,ii).  In the ancient world there was no idea of anything else than the most brutal revenge in warfare (I, iv).  No, the cause of the Roman defeat lay in herself (II), in her essential weakness and wickedness.  Her empire, allotted to her as a reward for certain terrestrial virtues (V), such as justice, temperance, courage, and so on–on which Augustine dwells with much enthusiasm–has been forfeited by her vice. (CW 3, 200)

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