Giles says that the BBC’s international mission as a taxpayer-supported service is to report the facts.
: In all the hyperactive hype over Harry Potter, it is accepted media wisdom that these long books are a good thing because they’re getting kids to read them.
Pardon me, but that’s like saying that Mary Higgins Clark is good because it’s getting middle-aged bon-bon eaters to read.
They’re not dissimilar. As narrative drama goes, Harry Potter sometimes displays the story-telling skill of a 6-year-old recounting a movie: This happened, then that happened, then this, then that. Resolution comes deus ex machina — when J.K. Rowling intervenes to solve the crisis with a magic spell or medieval gizmo rather than through the dramatic conflict and examination of conscience of the characters.
But my criticism isn’t with Harry Potter. If you like the books and movies, wonderful: enjoy. I’m the greatest fan of popular culture; being popular is the best review.
My criticism is with the media assumption that Harry Potter — just because it’s a book and more just because it’s a long book — is high culture. It’s an oddly snobby assumption. In my view, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is better dramatic fiction; so is Star Trek. They depend on human conflict to resolve dramatic tension rather than the sudden entrance of a monster. Yet they don’t get nearly the respect — or certainly the hype — of Harry Potter because they’re not thick books.
Just because it’s on paper, that doesn’t make it smart. Just because it’s long, that doesn’t make it smarter.
Middle East studies and storms
: At Jewsweek, Bradford Pilcher reports on the battles over government funding of Middle East studies departments at U.S. universities.
The ironies are obvious: Just as we are under attack from Middle East sources and just as we are trying to take an active and helpful role there, we need more knowledge of the area and more people who can speak the language and understand the people and the issues; we need more Middle East education.
But these departments are peopled by academics who are in some cases rabidly anti-American.
Edward Said, who virtually invented the field, has criticized the United States as having a “history of reducing whole peoples, countries, and even continents to ruin by nothing short of holocaust.” In 2000, Said referred to the Constitution as a “document reflecting the wealthy, white, slaveholding, Anglophilic men who wrote it,” and implied it was treated with too much reverence by patriotic fundamentalists.
The right has been attacking these professors and the funding is the battleground now. Says Pilcher:
The quality of our intelligence gathering, the strength of our national defense, and our ability to see another 9-11 coming is all at stake.
July 9: Supporting democracy in Iran
: Andrew Sullivan started it: He urged webloggers to show support for the popular democratic movement in Iran, leading up to July 9 and planned demonstrations there.
Many of us have been linking to Iranian webloggers to learn, to share the learning, and to show support.
To make this more tangible, I think we need to set two goals:
1. Support: We webloggers — from the U.S., Britain, Australia, Germany, Canada, France, Russia, Iraq, anywhere, from the left and from the right — read, quote, link to, promote, and create connections with Iranian webloggers to show our support and to build bridges. Find links to a number of fine weblogs here and here and also here.
2. News: We create such a popular groundswell on the Internet that it can’t be ignored and major media end up writing stories about the Iranian democracy movement, the young people and webloggers who are supporting it (especially from within), and the support they are getting from international webloggers without. To make that more visible, I created these buttons; please copy them and put them on your weblogs.
It’s a small step but it beats invading. (Sorry, just a little American imperialist humor… See my post directly below.)
This uses the power we have: our links.
: And if someone who has real aesthetics and ability wants to design other buttons, please have at it!
The complications of Iran
: Via Glenn Reynolds, here’s a good roadmap of Iran’s factions, written by an Iranian, echoing the cautions I have been reading in other Iranian weblogs for a few months now. This post warns: Do no support or get anywhere near the MKO (see more posts on this yesterday). Do not support the monarchists (haven’t we been there already?). And take with a grain of salt NITV’s credit-taking for the popular movement now rising up in Iran:
Iran doesn’t need external opposition groups. There are good and brave people aplenty in Iran. There are the ones you can see, in the streets. And there are the ones you can’t see, who have been fighting the mullahs while the rest of us were going about our business. They are in the jails and this is their revolution.
That is the theme of every Iranian weblog I have read and it can all be summarized in three little words: Do not invade.
Which got me to wondering this morning whether we meant it when we said we wanted a popular uprising to topple Saddam. I’ll bet we did, but a cynic would say that we didn’t want that because (1) we would not have had control of next steps in Iraq, (2) Iraq would have been out of control and could have quickly come under the sway of religious fanatics and even civil war, (3) we pushed Iraqis to revolt before, didn’t support them, and didn’t want to find ourselves making that mistake again, and (4) the people were not capable of toppling Saddam without help.
That was Iraq. This is Iran. The situation is different. Our history is different. In Iran, we are clearly better off if democracy is a domestic product and if we are able to provide appropriate support.
: Zaneirani reports that a blogger student has been arrested in Iran. The link taks us to a Persian blog, so I have no more details.
: And here is the song for arrested students. (Don’t need to understand the language to get the point.)
: Jafar tells the story of an American who died fighting for democracy in Iran… in 1905.
: Today the NY Times wrote about how blogs try to get traffic.
Bottom line: Reynolds and Sullivan caused a ten-times-greater increase in traffic than the NY Times.
: Kevin Holtsberry holds another fine blog symposium, this one about blogs and media with Ryan Pitts — who has been doing a great job with his new group blog, Dead Parrot Society; Ken Layne — the Schwarzenegger of bloggers; Joanne Jacobs — a real writer; and me — just to bring the demographics down. Go read.
: And Mark Glaser at OJR attempts to chart top bloggers across two axes: left to right and blogging to journalism while also weighing their influence on media. Debate starts…. now!