Thursday, September 09, 2004


Textbook Bias, Parts III & IV

Since I've been remiss in posting here--both because of teaching duties and because Blogger has been a royal pain in the ass lately--I'll post two subsections of the left-center-right section from the Giannetti book.

Chutry from Wordherders didn't see the bias in the last excerpt--I think that once I have posted the whole thing, it will perhaps become more obvious. There is a value judgment being made here.


Relative Versus Absolute

People on the left believe that we ought to be flexible in our judgments, capable of adjusting to the specifics of each case. Children are characteristically raised in a permissive environment and encouraged in self-expression, as in My Life as a Dog. Moral values are merely social conventions, not eternal verities. Issues of right and wrong must be placed in a social context, including any mitigating circumstances, before we can judge them fairly.

Rightists are more absolute in judging human behavior. Children are expected to be disciplined, respectful, and obedient to their elders. Right and wrong are fairly clear-cut and ought to be evaluated according to a strict code of conduct, as in Pinocchio. Violations of moral principles ought to be punished to maintain law and order and to set an example for others.

Is it really necessary for me to fisk this in order to reveal the bias? Do I really need to point out the difference between saying "people on the left" and "rightists"? Between the kindly leftist being decribed above versus the punitive and inflexible person on the right? Christ--this passage drips with bias.

The next one is more subtle, and at least calls leftists "leftists":

Secular Versus Religious

Leftists believe that religion, like sex, is a private matter and should not be the concern of governments. Some left-wingers are atheists or agnostics, although some of the most famous have been members of the clergy, like the leaders of the American Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Most leftists are humanists. Religious skeptics frequently invoke the authority of science to refute traditional religious beliefs. Others are openly critical of organized religion, which they view as simply another social institution with a set of economic interests to protect, as in Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Leftists who are religious tend to be attracted to "progressive" denominations, which are more democratically organized than authoritarian or hierarchical religions.

Rightists accord religion a privileged status, as in The Virgin Spring. Some authoritarian societies decree an official faith for all their citizens, and nonbelievers are sometimes treated as second-class citizens, if they are tolerated at all. The clergy enjoy a prestigious status and are respected as moral arbiters. Piety is regarded as a sigh of superior virtue and spirituality.
The left is consistently described in positive terms, and is equated with freedom and liberty. The right is consistently associated with authoritarianism.

The excesses of the left--those that have resulted in societies like the former Soviet Union, North Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam--are ignored. The excesses of the right are on full display, and the right is described almost exclusively in negative terms.

This is biased.

Sunday, September 05, 2004


Textbook Bias, Part II

First of all, I know I really need to get to blogging on the experience of being a lower middle class student in a Ph.D. program in English, finally starting the conversation with J.V.C. we talked about almost a month ago. That requires careful thought, though, and posting some quotations from a terribly written textbook doesn't.

So, without further adieu, here's "Environment Versus Heredity."

Leftists believe that human behavior is learned and can be changed by proper environmental incentives. Antisocial behavior is largely the result of poverty, prejudice, lack of education, and low social status rather than human nature or lack of character, as in The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith.

Rightists believe that character is largely inborn and genetically inherited. Hence the emphasis of many right-wingers on lineage and the advantage of coming from "a good family," as in Late Spring and Late Autumn. In some Asian societies especially, ancestor worship is common.

First of all, Giannetti obviously knows nothing about cognitive and evolutionary psychology, and hasn't a clue really about the subjects he's decided he is somehow qualified to pontificate upon.

But beyond that, this passage reads like a parody of something a leftist would say (though this joker is apparently serious). And a stupid leftist at that, given that both positions are a gross oversimplification of what we might expect to hear from the left and the right on this issue. And the right is represented by the fascist point of view, as is so common in leftist accounts of what the right thinks.

Yet we can see that the position of the left offers hope. Everything can be fixed if we just adopt their view of human nature, and look upon human beings as blank canvases upon which to paint the picture we want to see.

Why does that sound so familiar? Oh, yeah. Mao said something almost exactly like that, didn't he? Well, that certainly worked out well.

Saturday, September 04, 2004


Textbook Bias, Part I

This is the first in a series of excerpts from Understanding Movies, 10th edition, by Louis Giannetti (Prentice Hall, 2005). The book was left in my office by its previous occupant, and I was flipping through it during office hours.

It was quite interesting until I got to the chapter on ideology, particularly the section on the "Left-Center-Right" model. Giannetti breaks the discussion down into sub-sections, and I'll be reproducing one a day here for your perusal.

The first section is entitled "Democratic Versus Hierarchical."

"Leftists tend to emphasize the similarities among people. [Hah!] We all eat about the same amount of food, breathe the same amount of air. Likewise, leftists believe that a society's resources should be distributed in roughly equal portions, as is implied in The Human Condition and Pixote. Authority figures are merely skilled managers and not intrinsically superior to the people they are responsible to. Important institutions should be publicly owned. In some societies, all basic industries such as banking, utilities, health, and education are operated for the equal benefit of all citizens. The emphasis is on the collective, the communal."

"Rightists emphasize the differences among people, insisting that the best and the brightest are entitled to a larger share of power and the economic pie than less productive workers, as is implied in Henry V. Authority should be respected. Social institutions are guided by strong leaders, not the rank-and-file or even average citizens. Most insititutions should be privately owned, with profit as the main incentive to productivity. The emphasis is on the individual and an elite managerial class."

Frankly, while I was expecting some sort of bias from someone in the ultra-left enclave which is film studies, this shocked the hell out of me. This bias is so blatant I really can't understand how Prentice-Hall let this book go to press.

And it's inaccurate. I particularly object to the idea that the left emphasizes similarities while the right emphasizes differences. The identity politics of the modern left and the desire among the right to avoid the sort of Balkanization this has caused should be reason enough to at least question this ridiculous blanket statement made by Giannetti.

This is just a taste of things to come, though. There are nine sub-sections in the "Left-Center-Right" section of the ideology chapter. Next up is one that should garner some comments from Rose (and maybe we can get someone from Butterflies and Wheels over here): "Environment Versus Heredity."

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