The Breakfast Table

On the Waterfront

Kim, babe:

Let’s do more Hollywood; I feel a certain air of detachment coming on myself. Teen Lust XIX sounds pretty tempting. Not the movie itself, I guess, so much as the spin-off possibilities: These could be intriguing.

I could get into the collectible Teen Lust Action Figures that will be available for a limited time at participating Burger Kings. Or the inevitable para-Marxist, postmodern collection of essays from Routledge, Reading Teen Lust: Subversive Pleasures of the Infantalized Audience. Or the high-concept self-cannibalizations that always emerge from successful movies, like, say, Tom Stoppard’s Shakespeare’s Teen Lust.

But I’ve got another Hollywood remake question to pose: Is Hollywood going to re-stage that time-tested hit, “Elia Kazan Is a Rat,” on Oscar night? I read a press account recently about a movement to protest the recognition he’s scheduled to receive at the Academy Awards. Kazan, of course, named names 40 years ago in the course of HUAC’s notorious hearings into supposed communist subversion of the film industry, and Kazan has never been forgiven for being an informer. When Kazan’s award was first announced, there was no negative public reaction, and it looked like the Cold War had ended even in Los Angeles. But now protestors are urging people to “sit on their hands,” and not applaud when Kazan (whose On the Waterfront is his statement on the matter) is introduced. Do you have any idea if that’s likely to happen? Do you have any idea how strong feelings are about Kazan among people in the industry who aren’t old enough to remember any of these events firsthand?

I’ve got a related question, too. Arthur Schlesinger Jr. did a riff on the Great Kazan Debate just last Sunday in the New York Times. He wrote, “Is informing unforgivable in all circumstances? Had Mr. Kazan been a member of the German-American Bund naming underground Nazis, would they have condemned him just as much? Or a former Klansman who informed on his hooded brethren? Or a former Mafia thug who informed on the mob? Or a member of the Nixon White House who informed during Watergate? Or a whistleblower who disclosed government malfeasance? No, informing per se is not Mr. Kazan’s offense. His true offense in the minds of the Hollywood protesters is that he informed on the Communist Party.”

Did this riff get any kind of play on your coast? Of course, when people like David Horowitz or Ronald Radosh have made related Cold War arguments, red diaper babies have dismissed them as “red-baiters.” They can’t do that as easily with a figure like Schlesinger, so the question is whether they did anything at all. You mentioned in a previous message that the Los Angeles Times spilled a fair amount of ink over the Starr-flavored politics of a recent Law and Order segment; what about this issue?

I’ll tell you why I’m curious. The national “culture war” that increasingly has our attention really does not turn on left-right issues at all. Rather, it turns on a completely different set of social, technological, and cultural matters: risk vs. security; change vs. preservation; innovation vs. familiarity; an open, market-driven culture vs. gatekeeper authority.

So, if the people who run one of our most powerful cultural industries are still passionate about Cold War, left-right, Stalin-tinged questions, that’s actually worth knowing about. The Kazan debate offers us a glimpse of the fin de siècle Left Coast political soul. Is there such a debate?

See you at the water bar,