Friday, April 27, 2007

Jack Valenti's Last Take

Rostropovich was not the only subject of a BBC obituary this morning. There was also the report of Jack Valenti's death last night. Those of us who saw the documentary This Film is not yet Rated or have investigated the business side of Hollywood through other lenses are most likely to associate Valenti with the introduction of the rating system employed by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). This has turned out to be the closest any American procedure has come to the workings of the old Star Chamber system; so, if we are to remember Rostropovich for championing the principle of freedom of expression beyond the bounds of music, Valenti may best be remembered as an anti-Rostropovich. This provides a light under which we can examine the final paragraphs his BBC obituary:

Valenti once said that the 1966 film A Man For All Seasons was his favourite movie.

"I'm the luckiest guy in the world, because I spent my entire public working career in two of life's classic fascinations, politics and Hollywood," he said.

"You can't beat that."

While "classic" is the sort of hyperbole we have come to associate with the entertainment industry, Valenti's sentence cleverly overlooks the fact that the common fascination behind politics and Hollywood is the extent to which all of their operations revolve around resolving questions of who gets to manipulate whom. As I recall, Dante had a particular beef with those occupied with manipulation (Machiavelli was, after all, his contemporary); and, since much of the Divine Comedy was his personal exercise in retribution, one can imagine Dante assigning Valenti to some circle in which he will be subject to the kinds of manipulations he dished out for all eternity! Thomas More was, of course, another skilled manipulator while his head was on his shoulders. I do not know if he invented the literary form of biography-as-propaganda; but he is certainly responsible for one of the best examples. His portrayal of Richard III as one of England's darkest villains, basically as a way to legitimize Tudor rule, has been so immortalized by Shakespeare that no one cares very much any more about any of its inaccuracies! More was just the sort of person Valenti would want on his staff!

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