Adorno's Bastards and the Frankfurt School
Opinion; Posted on: 2006-01-02 23:24:46

Much of the anti-White ethos of Jewish Hollywood -- and all modern trash "culture" -- can be traced to Adorno.

by Kevin Beary

THE FILM PLEASANTVILLE, directed by Gary Ross and released by New Line Cinema/Time Warner, is set in a town of the same name -- an idyllic 1950s kind of place that Americans wish they still lived in. It is a town free of hatred, violence, and sorrow -- that is, until two fin-de-siècle teenagers arrive uninvited and start a revolution that will introduce the hapless citizens of Pleasantville to the nightmarish modern world.

David and Jennifer are brother and sister living in the late 1990s. David, a self-effacing, nostalgic type, is devoted to a 1950s television show called Pleasantville, modeled after the real 1950s Donna Reed Show. Jennifer is David's opposite -- a superficial, brash girl whose main interest is dating hunks.

Through the magic of a mysterious TV repair man, Bud and his sister are transported from the in-color 1990s world back into the black-and-white 1950s world of Pleasantville. The siblings take on the identities of Bud and Mary Sue, the brother and sister characters in the television show.

The siblings do indeed set off a revolution in the formerly quiet, peaceful town of Pleasantville -- the cultural revolution initiated three-quarters of a century ago by Theodore Adorno and his colleagues at the Frankfurt School for Social Research. The blueprint for the revolution, as it was to unfold in the United States, was the Frankfort School's The Authoritarian Personality, written by Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel J. Levinson, and R. Nevitt Sanford, in collaboration with Betty Aron, Maria Hertz Levinson, and William Morrow.

The Culture of Critique

In his Culture of Critique, California State University Professor of Psychology Kevin MacDonald describes The Authoritarian Personality as a "classic work in social psychology" which "was sponsored by the Department of Scientific Research of the American Jewish Committee in a series entitled Studies in Prejudice. Studies in Prejudice was closely connected with the so-called Frankfurt School of predominantly Jewish intellectuals associated with the Institute for Social Research originating during the Weimar period in Germany.…Even after the emigration of the Institute to the United States, it was widely perceived as a communist front organization with a dogmatic and biased Marxist perspective, and there was a constant balancing act [by the founders of the Institute] to attempt not to betray the left 'while simultaneously defending themselves against corresponding suspicion.'"

In keeping with the Frankfurt School's Marxist origins, "a consistent theme of Horkheimer and Adorno's Critical Theory [which is the name applied to the theoretical perspective of the Frankfurt School] was the transformation of society according to moral principles. From the beginning, there was a rejection of value-free social science research ('the fetishism of facts') in favor of the fundamental priority of a moral perspective in which present societies, including capitalist, fascist, and eventually Stalinist societies, were to be transformed into utopias of cultural pluralism.…The social scientist must therefore be a critic of culture and adopt an attitude of resistance toward contemporary societies."

Having been sent back in time to Pleasantville, Mary Sue (the 1990s Jennifer) loses no time in effecting the "transformation of society according to moral principles," or rather, immoral principles. One of the first things she does is to make a pass at Skip Martin, the captain of the basketball team. Mary Sue suggests to Skip that he take her to lover's lane, where she seduces him. The fad catches on, and in the next scene, in Lover's Lane, we see all the other students sexually engaged in their cars.

After Jennifer has seduced Skip, after she has sown the seed that will destroy the Pleasantville world of monogamy and familial cohesiveness, the basketball team captain beholds a red rose -- the first in-color object in Pleasantville. The message is clear enough: monogamy and the family are insipid; promiscuity and the broken home are vibrant.

When Skip tells his fellow basketball players that he has made love to Mary Sue, the team loses its athletic prowess. Bud sees this, and afterwards reproaches his sister for her destructive behavior:

"You can't do this, Jennifer. I warned you. You don't understand: You're messing with their whole goddam universe."

"Maybe it needs to be messed with, David. Did that ever occur to you?" Jennifer says, articulating the Frankfurt school's justification for its assault on gentile culture.

When Betty, Mary Sue's mother, asks her daughter what goes on at Lover's Lane, Mary Sue replies, "Sex," to which her mother asks, "What's sex?"

Mary Sue explains sex to her mother off-camera. After the explanation, Betty's response is, "Your father would never do anything like that."

"There are other ways to enjoy yourself," Mary Sue says, and then presumably explains the art of masturbation to her mother, again off-camera. In the next scene, the mother masturbates while taking a bath and brings herself to orgasm while her baffled husband listens from his bed.

Eventually, Betty will have an affair with Mr. Johnson, the owner of the soda fountain where Bud works; she will then walk out on her husband and children. Thus she progresses from masturbation, to adultery, to abandonment of her husband and children, passing on the way from a drab, black-and-white existence to a vibrant, colored new life.

The two 1990s siblings -- Jennifer and David -- come themselves from a broken home, which in the context of director Gary Ross's philosophy is preferable to the cohesion of the Pleasantville family; and so the broken home is in color, and is therefore more authentic, more real.

Freud and Marx

The destruction of the traditional moral values of the Pleasantville community is in harmony with the philosophy of the Frankfurt School. In MacDonald's words:

The priority of the moral and political agenda of Critical Theory is essential to understanding the Frankfurt School and its influence. Horkheimer and Adorno…developed the theory that disturbed parent-child relations involving the suppression of human nature were a necessary condition for domination and authoritarianism.

Obviously, this is a perspective that is highly compatible with psychoanalytic theory, and indeed psychoanalysis was a basic influence on their thinking.…Erich Fromm held positions at the Frankfurt Psychoanalytic Institute as well as at the Institute for Social Research," and "he developed theories that incorporated both Marxism and psychoanalysis essentially by developing a theoretical link between the repression of instincts in the context of family relationships…and the development of oppressive social and economic structures.…[P]sychoanalysis as a nonempirically based hermeneutic structure (which nevertheless masqueraded as a science) turned out to be an infinitely plastic tool in the hands of those constructing a theory aimed at achieving purely political objectives.

Perhaps a moment should be taken here to elucidate Prof. MacDonald's somewhat technical language. MacDonald characterizes psychoanalysis as "nonempirically based" in the sense that Freudian concepts about psychology have never been tested -- have never been proven to be true. On the contrary, Freud developed his theories before he began his research. His work as a psychoanalyst consisted in fitting his patients' psychological dynamics to theories he had hatched in the privacy of his study.

A "hermeneutic structure" is a framework with its own set rules of interpretation. Any phenomena or evidence that does not fit into this framework must be either discarded completely or else manipulated and twisted until it does fit. In this sense, psychoanalysis is a kind of Procrustean bed whereon the phenomena of human existence is pulled and stretched until they can fit -- albeit in mutilated form.

MacDonald continues:

Horkheimer and Adorno propose that modern fascism is basically the same as traditional Christianity because both involve opposition to and subjugation of nature.…

This tendency to interpret anti-Semitism as fundamentally deriving from suppressing nature is central to Studies in Prejudice, and particularly The Authoritarian Personality. Suppression of nature results in projection of qualities of self onto the environment and particularly onto the Jews.… Particularly important for this projection process are sexual impulses… Christian self-denial and, in particular, the suppression of sex result in evil and anti-Semitism via projection.…

Forbidden actions underlain by powerful instincts are thus turned into aggression, which is then projected [by the individual] onto victims in the external world, with the result that 'he attacks other individuals in envy or persecution just at the repressed bestialist hunts or torments an animal.'… Domination of nature, viewed as central to Christianity and fascism, thus derives ultimately from suppressing our animal nature.…

The Ethnocentrism Scale

In order to "prove" their preconceived theories of human aggression, the authors of The Authoritarian Personality developed what they called an "Ethnocentrism Scale" or "E scale" to measure the level of prejudice or ethnocentrism in their human subjects. In the world of the Frankfurt School, anyone scoring high on this scale was a Nazi in embryo. The method was not every researcher's cup of tea. MacDonald writes that "despite [The Authoritarian Personality's] influence, from the beginning it has been common to point out technical problems with the construction of the scales and the conduct and interpretation of the interviews. The result is that The Authoritarian Personality has become something of a textbook on how not to do social science research." (MacDonald 168; emphasis in original)

Notwithstanding the above-mentioned problems, the "Ethnocentrism Scale" proved good enough for Frankfurt School work.

In the "upside-down world of The Authoritarian Personality," as MacDonald puts it, people who have conventional attitudes about marriage score high on the ethnocentricism scale, which means that such attitudes are a sign of incipient Nazism. MacDonald, however, rejects this connection. He points out that "an evolutionist…is impressed by the fact that high-scoring males [on the Ethnocentrism Scale] appear as individuals who wish to enter a marriage in which they have a high degree of paternity confidence. They want a woman with high moral standards who is unlikely to be sexually attracted to other males, and they seek women with conventional moral values. High-scoring females seem intent on being exactly this sort of woman. They project the image of having very high standards of sexual decorum and wish to maintain a reputation as nonpromiscuous.

"Further, the high-scoring females want males who are 'hardworking, "go-getting" and energetic, "a good personality," (conventionally) moral, "clean-cut," deferent toward women.' An evolutionist would expect that this type of sexual behavior and discrimination of marriage partners to be characteristic of those entering 'high-investment' marriages characterized by sexual fidelity by the female and by high levels of paternal involvement. This highly adaptive tendency of high-scoring females to seek investment from males [Authoritarian Personality contributor] Frenkel-Brunswik labels 'opportunistic.'

"Conventional attitudes toward marriage are also an aspect of the 'pathological' attitudes of high scorers. High scorers 'tend to place a great deal of emphasis on socioeconomic status, church membership, and conformity with conventional values.'" Conventional attitudes towards marriage indicate a "lack of individuation and of real object relationship" and "a paucity of affection."

The destruction of the gentile family was thus one of the primary goals of the Frankfurt School theorists, as it is Jennifer's goal in Pleasantville.

In order to stigmatize 1950s America as unintellectual and therefore in dire need of "modernization," Ross depicts all books in Pleasantville as being blank inside. However, when Mary Sue begins to read a book -- Huckleberry Finn -- what she remembers of the text fills in magically. Significantly, when Bud takes up the story of Huckleberry Finn, he refers to "Huck and the slave," instead of Huck and Jim, as does Mark Twain and as do most people. This mention of "the slave" foreshadows the transformation of Pleasantville into a Nazified Southern town experiencing civil unrest.

In the next scene, the students are flocking to a library, under the gaze of the mayor, who resembles George Wallace, and some old townsman, one of whom says: "Going up to that lake [that is, Lover's Lane] all the time is one thing -- but now they're going to the library? What's next?"

"You're right," says another man. "Somebody ought to do something about that. Soon."

The mayor listens and watches ominously.

How promiscuous sex and taking books out of the library are related to each other, director Ross fails to explain. His implication, though, that high school students in the 1950s didn't read books is in fact the opposite of the historical reality. It is common knowledge that literacy levels where much higher in the '50s than they are today, that the decline started in the '60s, has continued and shows no signs of reversal. The constant cry today is: "Raise standards!" The public schools are a shambles, and parents demand vouchers so that they may send their children to parochial schools, those throwbacks to Ross' unintellectual 1950s.

In the next scene, the mayor, concerned about the "changes" in the town, calls on George Parker, and asks him to become a member of the Chamber of Commerce, whose symbol is a button with two white hands joined in a handshake. As will be seen later in the film, Ross views the Chamber of Commerce as a budding Nazi Party.

In the meantime, unintellectual Mary Sue has developed a taste for reading, to the point where she sends her boyfriend away when he throws stones at her window to remind her that they have an appointment to have sex. How this meshes with Ross's thesis that promiscuous sexual activity goes hand in hand with voracious reading is not explained.

George comes home that night to find his wife missing. His famous line, "Honey, I'm home!" is unanswered in the dark house. He enters the empty kitchen and asks himself, "Where's my dinner?"

Unable to find his wife, George goes out into the rain -- the first rain in the artificial world of Pleasantville, and another indication that things have changed -- and then to the bowling alley, where the mayor is playing with his bowling league. George explains to the members of the league that he has found his wife gone and no dinner. The mayor reassures him, and makes a little speech:

"It's gonna be fine, George: you're with us now.… This isn't some little virus that'll clear up on its own. Something is happening to our town. And I think we can all see where it's coming from.… My friends…it's a question of values. It's a question of whether we want to hold on to those values that made this place great. So -- a time has come to make a decision. Are we in this thing alone -- or are we in it together?"

The league members -- one with a clenched fist, two others embracing -- chant, "Together! Together! Together!" The National Socialist Pleasantville Workers Party has seemingly been formed, in an American bowling alley rather than in a Munich beer hall.

Gentile Group Allegiances

Director Ross, following the lead of the Frankfurt School, is in this scene stigmatizing gentile group allegiances. The bowling league is a typical type of such a gentile group. Prof. MacDonald explains that "a general theme of an earlier work by Horkheimer and Adorno, The Dialectic of Enlightenment, is that "anti-Semitism is the result of 'the will to destroy born of a false social order.' …There is a recognition that anti-Semitism is associated with gentile movements for national cohesiveness. The anti-Semitism arising along with such movements is interpreted as resulting from the 'urge to destroy' carried out by 'covetous mobs' that are ultimately manipulated by ruling gentile elites to conceal their own economic domination. Anti-Semitism is without function except to serve as a means of discharging the anger of those who are frustrated economically and sexually....

"[A] consistent theme of The Authoritarian Personality is the idea that gentile participation in cohesive groups with high levels of social conformity is pathological, whereas similar behavior of Jews with respect to the group cohesiveness characteristic of Judaism is ignored… The continuation and acceptance of Jewish particularism become a precondition for the development of a utopian society of the future.

"With this perspective, the roots of anti-Semitism are therefore to be sought in individual psychopathology, not in the behavior of Jews."

MacDonald notes that "a powerful tendency in both radical politics and psychoanalysis has been a thoroughgoing critique of gentile society. An important theme here is that Studies in Prejudice and, especially, The Authoritarian Personality attempt to show that gentile group affiliations, and particularly membership in Christian religious sects, gentile nationalism, and close family relationships, are an indication of psychiatric disorder."

Even a humble bowling league is more than suspect in the eyes of an Adorno and a Ross. Any gentile group affiliation is a kind of Nazi party, no matter how innocent the group may seem. Underneath the seemingly tranquil surface of the bowling league is consummate evil that express itself in genocide.

Breaking Windows and Burning Books

The next morning in Pleasantville, a rainbow arcs over the town. In the soda fountain, Betty is asleep in the arms of Mr. Johnson. A sign on a tree proclaims: "Town Meeting Tonight. All True Citizens of Pleasantville." When George's wife -- now in color, having committed adultery and having thus become more real -- returns home, George tells her that she must put on makeup to hide her rosy cheeks and go to the town meeting with him. She refuses, and walks out on him.

Bud is still black-and-white, but his girlfriend is now in color. As they kiss on the street, two black-and-white students pull up in a car. Their hair is short, their attitude is threatening; they are obviously meant to be brownshirt types. Bud and his girlfriend are afraid of them. One of them, Whitey, asks Bud:

"Why aren't you at the town meeting right now?"

"No reason. How come you're not?" Bud replies.

"We're supposed to go around and let everyone know about it. I thought maybe it was 'cause you were too busy entertaining your colored girlfriend," Whitey says, laughing.

Bud tells the two boys to "get the hell out of here," and they drive off.

At the town meeting, the mayor speaks in front of the logo of the Chamber of Commerce: the two white hands joined. Again, the propagandistic suggestion here is that whites cooperating and working together is fascism. The crowd in the auditorium is angry because, as the mayor puts it: "Recently, certain things have become unpleasant."

The next morning, we see a sign on a hardware store: "No Coloreds." A boy delivering papers on his bicycle crashes when he sees on the picture window of the soda fountain a mural painting (done by Mr. Johnson) of Betty stretched out naked.

A few scenes later, Betty herself is surrounded in the middle of Pleasantville in broad daylight by five white youths -- with Whitey as the leader -- all wearing white shirts and black trousers.

The youths taunt Betty with such comments as: "She looks like a picture. -- You wanna be friendly, don't you? -- Why don't you show us what's under that nice blue dress?"

The youths corner Betty near a wall, but just as Whitey touches her dress, Bud, who has seen the trouble brewing and has run to Betty's rescue, whirls Whitey around and punches him, drawing blood. When Whitey and his cohorts see the red blood, they become frightened and flee.

Director Ross has unwittingly shown us how the intrusion of the two 1990s teenagers has had a very pernicious effect on the town of Pleasantville. It is indeed no longer pleasant. Its residents, who once lived in peaceful harmony, have now begun to hate one another. The crime of rape is attempted by schoolboys who, before the coming of David and Jennifer, would have blushed with shame at the mere idea of such a horrible act.

In the meanwhile, a crowd has gathered in front of the soda fountain. They throw rocks through the window on which naked Betty is painted. They break into the store and tear it to pieces. The quiet, peaceable townsfolk of Pleasantville have become an angry, violent mob. Once in the store, the rampaging citizens destroy a second painting by Mr. Johnson and rip out the pictures of famous paintings from an art book that Bud had presented to the soda fountain owner.

This scene is reminiscent of one in the classic WWII anti-Nazi film, The 49th Parallel. Towards the end of the film, two Nazis who have made their way across Canada come across an English writer camping in the woods. The writer cannot bear to be parted from his two favorite paintings -- an original Picasso and a Matisse, which he keeps in his tent. After robbing the Englishman of his guns, the Nazis throw the paintings on the fire, as one of them mocks what the writer has said previously: "Wars may come and wars may go, but Art goes on forever, eh?" Also consigned to the flames are an original edition of Thomas Mann and the English writer's own manuscript. Thus is the WWII propagandistic stereotype of the art-destroying Nazi perpetuated in Ross' 1998 film -- though in Pleasantville, Ross has turned the North Americans who fought the Nazis into Nazis themselves.

While the soda fountain is being destroyed, Bud's girlfriend -- her blouse torn and her bra exposed -- is seen running down the street. She is being chased by a couple of the youths who had previously attempted to rape Betty. Bud comes to his girlfriend's rescue.

Meanwhile, Whitey and others of the ubiquitous black-and-white youths with short hair, white shirts, and black trousers, are carrying books out of the library and throwing them onto a bonfire. This scene is, of course, reminiscent of the Nazi book burnings, and of the scene from The 49th Parallel mentioned above. The youths holler in celebration as the books burn; older townsmen applaud as they watch the holocaust.

When things have quieted down a bit, the people who have turned colored all meet in the destroyed soda fountain. The Chamber of Commerce has held another meeting, at which Mr. Parker has presented an enumerated Code of Conduct, of which points 3, 4, and 6 are:

"3. The area commonly known as Lover's Lane, as well as the Pleasantville Public Library, shall be closed until further notice.…

"4. The only permissible recorded music shall be the following: Johnny Mathis, Perry Como, Jack Jones, the marches of John Philip Sousa, or the Star Spangled Banner. In no event shall any music be tolerated that is not of a temperate or pleasant nature.…

"8. All elementary and high school curriculum [sic] shall contain the non-changeist view of history, emphasizing continuity over alteration."

In the soda fountain, someone turns on the juke box. A rock and roll tune comes on.

"Turn that off!" a girl protests. "You're not allowed to do that now."

"Sure you are," Bud reassures everyone. He turns the music back on, and all the coloreds hesitantly begin to sway their feet to the rhythm.

Bud has at some point decided that the world of Pleasantville, which he was so intent on preserving earlier in the film, is expendable. It is not clear what has effected this change in Bud's character. But continuity of character development does not form part of Mr. Ross' dramaturgy.

Indeed, in an interview posted on, Mr. Ross explains his conception of character:

"Characters are your servants.… The character doesn't exist -- the character's an instrument of your will, and expressing what you want to express, and can be altered and modified to more clearly express what you want to express. You've got to get clear on your own point of view, not your character's."

To protest the violent actions of the townspeople, and to affirm Mr. Johnson's right to paint, Bud and Mr. Johnson paint a ghetto-style wall mural of protest, for which they are arrested. Uplifting, spiritual music is heard when Bud and Mr. Johnson make their protest.

George visits Bud in his jail cell. He asks his son:

"What happened? One minute, everything's fine, the next… What went wrong?"

"Nothing went wrong. People change," Bud explains.

"People change?"

"Yeah! People change."

"Can they change back?"

"I don't know. I think it's harder," Bud says with a smirk.

And in point of fact, once civilizational values have been destroyed, it is difficult to build them up again.

George continues:

"It's not fair, you know. You get used to one thing, and then -- "

"I know," Bud says, smiling slyly, "it's not."

Family Values

Bud has rejected the cultural values that his father had hoped to pass on to him. This would make Bud a very good pupil indeed in the Frankfurt School. Daniel J. Levinson, one of the co-authors of The Authoritarian Personality, "provides data showing that individuals with different political party preferences than their fathers have lower ethnocentrism scores. He then proposes that rebelling against the father is an important predictor of lack of ethnocentrism: 'Ethnocentrists tend to be submissive to ingroup authority, anti-ethnocentrists to be critical and rebellious, and…the family is the first and prototypic ingroup.…'" Therefore, "rebelling against parental values is psychologically healthy because it results in lower ethnocentrism scores. Conversely, lack of rebellion against the parent is implicitly viewed as pathological." (MacDonald 174)

Yet another co-author of The Authoritarian Personality, Else Frenkel-Brunswik, "discusses differences in attitudes toward parents and conceptions of the family. Prejudiced individuals 'glorify' their parents and view their family as an ingroup. Low-scoring [on the Ethnocentrism Scale] individuals, in contrast, are said to have an 'objective' view of their parents combined with genuine affection. To make these claims plausible, Frenkel-Brunswick must show that the very positive attitudes shown by high scorers are not genuine affection but are simply masks for repressed hostility...."

"For Frenkel-Brunswik…parental solicitude, accepting parental values, and parental influence on marriage decisions are a sign of pathology -- a forerunner of fascism.…Frenkel-Brunswik invents the term 'denial of conflict' as a description of the 'pathology' of the high-scoring families… [I]n the upside-down world of The Authoritarian Personality, lack of apparent conflict [in the family] is a sure sign of the denial of extremely severe conflict...."

"In her summary and discussion of the family interview data, Frenkel-Brunswik then chooses to ignore the obvious signs of conflict, hostility, and ambivalence in the families of low scorers and characterizes them as 'nurturant-loving' and as exhibiting 'free-flowing affection.' These families produce children with a "greater richness and liberation of emotional life' and the children exhibit a successful 'sublimation of instinctual tendencies.' Obvious signs of cohesiveness, affection, harmony, discipline, and successful transmission of family values in the families of high scorers are interpreted as 'an orientation of power and contempt for the allegedly inferior.' These families are characterized by 'fearful subservience to the demands of the parents and by an early suppression of impulses.'"

Bud and his sister have been instrumental in destroying their father's marriage, the town he grew up and lives in -- his very world. Seeing his father suffer, Bud can only snicker at the man's pain, and utter a banal, "Things change" -- a remark that is a lie. Things in the town didn't just change -- they were changed quite deliberately, and for the worse, by Bud and his sister.

The arrest of Bud and Mr. Johnson leads to the confrontation in a court room between the black-and-whites and the coloreds. The coloreds are sitting in the balcony of the courtroom, like blacks sat in the balconies of movie theaters in days gone by.

The scène à faire is played between colored Bud and the black-and-white mayor. Bud makes a speech to the mayor and the courtroom.

"I know you want it to stay pleasant around here," Bud says. "But there are so many things that are so much better -- like silly, or sexy, or dangerous, or brief. And every one of those things is in you all the time, if you just have the guts to look for them.…"

Eat your heart out, Oscar Wilde.

As the people in the courtroom become colored one by one, the mayor, who is in charge of the proceedings, says:

"This behavior must stop at once."

"But, see?" Bud says. "That's just the point. It can't stop at once, because it's in you, and you can't stop something that's inside you."

Finally, the mayor turns colored, and he runs from the courtroom in shame. At this point, everyone is colored, and so is the entire town of Pleasantville.

The revolution has been achieved!

In a rather feeble effort to show both sides of the issue, to suggest that the "silly, or sexy, or dangerous, or brief" 1990s are not the absolute paradise he has painted them, Ross has Jennifer decide to remain in the '50s and go to college.

"I did the slut thing. It got kind of old," she tells her brother, though now that 1950s Pleasantville has become indistinguishable from the 1990s town in which Jennifer lives, there seems to be no reason for her to remain. Moreover, isn't "the slut thing" one of the very activities that have brought the townspeople of Pleasantville to the glorious realization that "you can't stop something that's inside you," and given them the chance to experience "so many things that are so much better"?

The Fruits of Feminism

At the end of the film, David returns to the '90s to find his divorced mother in tears, having returned early from a weekend that she was supposed to spend with her younger boyfriend.

"I got halfway down there," she explains to her son, "and I thought, 'What am I doing?' He's nine years younger than I am. It doesn't make me feel younger, it makes me feel older.

"When your father was here, I used to think: This was it! This was the way it was always going to be. I had the right house, I had the right car, I had the right life -- "

David, who has been smiling smugly though his mother's pain-filled speech, interrupts:

"There is no right house; there in no right car." That there is no right life, he leaves unsaid. It does not occur to him that the right house is the house in which to raise one's children; the right car is the car in which to take them to school, with which to buy food for them: the best car, the best house, for the best children: one's own children. The colored immigrants of the world are not faulted for wanting the best for their children; but the white people born in this country, when they want the very same thing for their children that immigrants want for theirs, are denigrated as materialistic consumers at best, as book-burning rapists at worst.

"I'm forty years old," David’s mother says through her tears, "I mean, it's not supposed to be like this."

"Nothing is supposed to be anything," says her son, à la Frankfurt School.

But in fact, things are supposed to be a certain way for a forty-year-old mother of two high-school-age children. For David's mother, they are not. Her generation has committed cultural suicide, and like Macbeth, they must lament thus:

"…My way of life

Is fall'n into the sere, the yellow leaf,

And that which should accompany old age,

As honor, love, obedience, troops of friends,

I must not look to have…"

Or as Charlie Croker's cast-off wife laments to herself in a more recent work, Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full, "She was fifty-three years old, for God's sake! She had been married to Charlie Croker for twenty-nine years, and she had borne him three children, and she had helped him get started in this glorious career of which he was so obscenely proud! She had every right to be what her own mother had been at the age of fifty-three…a matron…yes a matron!…a queen!…immovably secure in her family and in society…"

Of course, in the garish world of the 1990s, a wife and mother has no right to anything. "Nothing is supposed to be anything," as David, with his handed-down, 1960s nihilism, says. Indeed, the world of the "colored" Pleasantville is a barbarous, if not a savage place, where civil war is the norm, where rape is attempted in broad daylight, where books are burned and art is destroyed.

The film ends with George and Betty sitting on a park bench in Pleasantville.

"So, what's going to happen now?" George asks.

"I don't know," his wife answers. "Do you know what's going to happen now?"

"No, I don't," George says.

Husband and wife laugh idiotically.

George's place is taken by Mr. Johnson, who says:

"I guess I don't [know] either."

Thus, the film ends on a note of nihilistic imbecility.

Red-Diaper Ross

Director Gary Ross is no stranger to the leftist world of the Frankfurt School. According to, Ross, while conceptualizing his film, "was drawn back into the years when his screenwriter father was blacklisted." While working on the screenplay, Ross experienced "memories that influenced the script's subtle inquiry into the emotional basis behind censorship and intolerance." Ross, who states that he "grew up in a very liberal household," has himself been involved in leftist politics. "Throughout his career," notes, "he has remained active in local and national politics. He has written speeches for numerous political luminaries, including President Clinton, and attended the Democratic National Convention as a delegate."

Ross states that his film is "about the nostalgia for that sort of simplicity and why we long for it in our current age of complexity.… I think the story reveals that the repressed wholesomeness of an Ozzie and Harriet universe is just as bad as the morally bankrupt, hyperactive universe that siblings David and Jennifer live in. David yearns for a more simplistic time and the people in Pleasantville covet the exciting and unpredictable, but what all the characters learn is that neither one is an alternative to the challenges of being human."

In saying the above, Ross is either being disingenuous or engaging in self-deception. Pleasantville is hardly a critique of today's "morally bankrupt" universe. It is rather a paean to the cultural degeneration of the 1990s, to which is opposed "the repressed wholesomeness" of the 1950s. For Ross, the "morally bankrupt, hyperactive" 1990s are the Promised Land. And if you die of AIDS or are killed in an assault -- hey! who are you to stand in the way of progress?

Director Ross, of course, does not live in a cultural vacuum; indeed, the Frankfurt School values that inform his film are present everywhere in our society. They are articulated most noticeably by self-styled civil rights groups such as Morris Dees' Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). For example, in an article published in SPLC's Teaching Tolerance magazine (Fall 1996 issue), titled "Signed, Anonymous," and written by Kelly Chandler, a teacher.

Miss Chandler writes: "Ninety-five percent of the students at Noble High School are white and Christian, if they profess any religious affiliation at all. One of my first priorities when I took a job at this large high school in rural Berwick, Maine, was to incorporate more diverse, multicultural texts into the sophomore English curriculum. In a unit on justice, I included a short reading about a neo-Nazi group's 1977 attempt to demonstrate in Skokie, Ill., a predominantly Jewish community....

"I had hoped that literature by Langston Hughes, Amy Tan, Elie Wiesel and Mary Crow Dog would help to open their minds and show them other worlds outside of Berwick, Maine. For many of my students, that literature was eye-opening. But I have learned, sadly, that even literature has its limitations, especially for kids as inexperienced and isolated as mine. In addition to reading, real experiences need to be created for them that will challenge their prejudices in a very concrete, immediate way."

For Miss Chandler, the small town of Berwick, Maine, is just another Pleasantville. The students, "white and Christian," "inexperienced and isolated" as they are, have to be helped out of their repression. Miss Chandler must destroy the small town of Berwick just as Bud and Jennifer destroyed Pleasantville.

Pleasantville and the Intrusion Plot

Ironically, Gary Ross's Pleasantville mirrors, in many ways, Veit Harlan's Jud Süss, the oft-cited but seldom-viewed German film. In both films, a stable society is rocked to its foundations by the arrival in its midst of a foreign element. But while the destruction of the old order is portrayed negatively in Jud Süss, in Pleasantville the annihilation of traditional values is represented positively. And while the restoration of the old order is hailed at the end of the German film, it is the total destruction of the old order that is hailed at the end of the American one -- given that such destruction represents "change" and "freedom."

The plot of Jud Süss is a variation on the well-made-play's intrusion plot, so deftly handled by the French playwrights Scribe, Dumas fils, and Augier in the 19th century. In the classic intrusion plot, an intruder who threatens the cohesiveness of a given social group is resisted by members of the group until the intruder is expelled and the former cultural equilibrium is re-established.

The intruder in Jud Süss is the character for whom the film is named: Süss Joseph Oppenheimer. By advancing money to the greedy and debauched Duke of Württemberg, Süss not only gains admittance to Stuttgart, which was formerly closed to Jews, but also manages to have himself appointed finance minister. He thereupon proceeds to raise taxes astronomically; to procure the city's youngest, fairest women for the duke; and to ruthlessly suppress all those who stand in his way. Süss even personally rapes the daughter of one of the city's council members. When the people of Stuttgart threaten to rebel, Süss plans to bring in mercenaries to quell the unrest, thus taking the province of Swabia to the brink of civil war. When the duke dies of a heart attack, however, Süss loses his power base, and is hanged at the end of the film for treason.

The plot of Pleasantville mirrors that of Jud Süss. In Pleasantville, the foreign element is represented by Bud and Jennifer. They enter a society that was formerly closed to them by its distance from them in the past. Jennifer proceeds to corrupt the morals of the town's students and adults. Bud resists at first, but finally jumps on Jennifer's bandwagon and contributes to the degeneration of the town. The actions of the 1990s teenagers bring Pleasantville to the brink of civil war: there is rioting, vandalism, and attempted rape. Unlike in Jud Süss, however, the intruders in Pleasantville succeed in their destabilization of society. The town's virtues of modesty, fidelity, harmony, and order are gone with the wind.

Ross’ Remorse

In the wake of the Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, Colorado in May 1999, director Gary Ross began to have second thoughts about his film and the values it espouses. In a New York Times Op-Ed piece titled "Moving Beyond Blame" (5/6/99), the red-diaper baby does what many grown-up red-diaper babies do when they're feeling a little queasy about the liberal discordia they've brought into being: consult a psychiatrist.

Writes Ross: "In the book Finding the Heart of the Child, the psychiatrist Edward Hallowell cogently lists many of the factors that contribute to the kind of alienation that allows something like Littleton to occur. These include changing family structure (single-parent homes, two-career homes); the breakdown of communities, villages and neighborhoods; cynicism about government and social institutions; the decrease in a sense of security, job permanence or close personal relationships; the decline of genuine spirituality as an ethical force in the culture; an explosion of information that creates anxiety over one's worth or abilities; a lack of respect for older people and an overreliance on 'self' to find the meaning of life."

These are the very factors championed by Ross in his film! He seems to realize this somewhat when he asks himself, "How many of us who have an impact on the culture have contributed (however unwittingly) to the social forces that Dr. Hallowell identifies?" But having made this promising start at self-examination, Ross then proceeds to blame "conservative Republicans" who "fought to have night basketball removed from the crime bill of several years ago," and who in so doing "were eroding a sense of community that can prevent this kind of isolation." Other culprits are "prime-time magazine shows," "advertisers" who "exploit perfect bodies…to sell their less-than-perfect products," and "local news," which is guilty of "the very desensitization that it decries when it covers a story like Littleton."

Finally, however, Ross does get around to 'fessing up, if only after a fashion. He meditates on "an acceptance of personal responsibility," stating: "I will not defend the role of movies in the culture. Despite my deep and abiding passion for the First Amendment, I will not even defend our right to make them. Let me say that movies can contribute to this desensitization. And let me promise that, on each screenplay, I will ask myself what the ramifications are to the culture in which I live and the children who may see these films."

Doubtless Ross's next film will be one that contributes to the preservation of civilization rather than to its destruction. Alas for Ross, mass-murderers Harris and Klebold did not take him into account when they considered which Hollywood directors would be keen to make their massacre into a movie. "Directors will be fighting over this story," Klebold says on a home video made before the Columbine shootings; and the boys wonder who will finally make the film: Steven Spielberg or Quentin Tarantino.

Being Different Without Fear

On that same tape, Harris declares, "We're going to kick-start a revolution." The two schoolmates saw themselves as a minority of two, fighting an oppressive society and its bourgeois morality. They were self-styled revolutionaries targeting Littleton's citizens "with their rich snobby attitude thinking they are all high and mighty," as Harris characterized them.

Harris and Klebold were Pleasantville's David and Jennifer with guns.

What would Adorno have said had he lived to see his deconstructed offspring giggle as they shot down their fellow students? Perhaps Pleasantville's Bud said it for him: "I know you want it to stay pleasant around here. But there are so many things that are so much better -- like silly, or sexy, or dangerous, or brief. And every one of those things is in you all the time, if you just have the guts to look for them.…"

Harris and Klebold had the guts to "be different without fear," as Adorno put it in his Minima Moralia.

The Frankfurt School don would have been proud of his two pupils.

Source: White Future • Printed from National Vanguard
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