I have a piece in the December 25 issue of The Catholic Herald about Christmas in New York — specifically how movies have shaped our perceptions of the city as a romantic backdrop for the holiday. Alas, the article is not available online (at least not yet), but here is a snippet from the print edition:
Whenever I speak to foreign friends, acquaintances and even strangers near Christmastime, they often openly fantasise about spending the holiday in New York City. They also tend to cite the film Home Alone 2 as the source of this fantasy.
Films have that effect: they alter our perceptions of a time and place into impossible standards by which we judge our real lives. I won’t pretend I didn’t develop my own fantasy of spending Christmas in London when I first saw Love Actually.
Everyone wants to fall in love, actually, and wants it to happen in certain places: on the Pont Alexandre III bridge in Paris, with the Eiffel Tower rising in the background, just as Jack Nicholson did in one of the 57 movies he made with Diane Keaton (or was it Helen Hunt?) — or, if Rob Reiner and Nora Ephron have any say in it, in Yuletide Manhattan.
In my first piece for Quadrant, the great Australian journal, I mount a brief offensive against this notion:
Owing to the shared history and values between the United States, where I live, and the United Kingdom, I would be much more profoundly enraged by a terror attack on British soil than by one in, say, Botswana. Seeing an attack on France, a pillar of Western civilisation and both America’s oldest ally and a NATO partner, affects me in a way that thinking about attacks in Lebanon or Yemen simply does not. One might as well approach a widow at her husband’s funeral and ask indignantly why she never wore black for the millions of other men who went before her dear departed.
Since it is impossible to be equally outraged by every single atrocity in human history, it is, by the “progressive” standard, impossible to be outraged by any atrocity. To the anti-Western left, there is always an infinite cornucopia of reasons why we shouldn’t be too upset about the latest mass slaughter of our friends abroad — or, indeed, of our own fellow citizens at home.
I am proud to contribute to Quadrant, which fought the good fight during the Cold War. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
At PJ Media, I write more about why some people think free speech is “oppressive.” They reach this conclusion by linking speech to the basic logic of contemporary identity politics:
The trick is to say that free speech is not “really” free, since it’s just an extension of certain people’s “privilege”; the exercise of it is therefore the “oppression” of the non-privileged groups, who don’t have the “power” to speak freely. We will only be “really” free when there is no “privilege.” Until that time, we have to balance the scales by gagging this “privileged” speech.
In The Weekly Standard, I review Adam Zamoyski’s Phantom Terror, a study of European monarchs’ paranoia regarding the threat of subversion and terrorism after the French Revolution:
Time and again, rulers construed uprisings not as expressions of discontent—the stimulus for action was more likely to be a bad grain harvest than a radical pamphlet—but as grand conspiracies hatched by shadowy maestros. The locus of Europe’s subversion was thought to be a body called the comité directeur. From its perch in Paris, this imagined group was the alleged central committee of European discontent, the heirs of Robespierre and Saint-Just.
Like all fantastical masterminds, the comité was everywhere and nowhere. Utterly convinced of its existence, European authorities whiffed its influence in every protest and every disturbance.