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Hitchens' Mini-Review of The Last Samurai
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Somebody here asked if I was a Hitchens ditto-head. Can't say the term is flattering, but if it means that I really like to read what the man says, even if I disagree with it sometimes, and that I like to remark on his writing often...then yeah.

So this review of a book called Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies there's a nice, biting mini-review of the Tom Cruise movie The Last Samuria, which I thought was pretty awful, but which most of the people I've talked to who've seen the movie have liked.

Hitchens not only pans it, but makes a good point:

I was very struck recently by seeing Tom Cruise's appalling movie The Last Samurai, where an American adventurer takes the side of feudal and tribal chivalry in Japan, presumably because of its self-annihilating authenticity, but realizes during the course of several destructive massacres that the samurai ethos will not survive in the face of modernity. What is needed, he concludes, is a fusion or synthesis between new weapons and old ideas. It's bad enough that an American, even a Scientologist, could actually desire to see what Japan eventually got -- in the combination of an imperial god-king with a large air force and navy, an evil empire and an absolutely calamitous war. Even more alarming was the cultural myopia that prevented critics and audiences from seeing that precisely this combination of medieval and atavistic ideas with borrowed technology is what threatens Eastern societies no less than our own.

Exactly. I revile the sort of simple-minded nostalgia that longs for "the good old days", simply because they were old (rarely, upon reflection, were they good).

My main problem with the film was the glamorization of the samurai, who were more often elite thugs than noble warriors. (Note that in one of my very few published stories, the samurai are potrayed as contemptuous villains...which is what they were, more often than not).

But Hitchen's criticism is a more important point. The movie celebrates the fusion of old thinking and new weapons--an incredibly dangerous and stupid wedding. Heaven forbid that our way of thinking about the world evolve along with our technology (some could argue that we haven't done a very good job of evolving our thought processes even in the West, but it's a much damn better idea to try to do so than to go the other way.)

9/11 was an obvious example of medieval thought mixed with modern technology. A bunch of ultra-religious, reactionary assholes who belonged to a group that embodies the antithesis of technological or social progress turned the fruits of our own technological and social progress against us. Their ideal society would have no place for mechanical contrivances or the openness and freedom to travel with them. As a matter of fact, we saw what their ideal society was--Afghanistan under the Taliban, and thanks to our own retaliatory use of technology, that medieval regime has been destroyed.

But the point is, Hitchens is right, and it's refreshing to see someone pop the bubble of those, in other societies and in our own, that engage in the worship of societal regression. As he points out, it's not only a stupid form of weak-minded nostalgia, but a dangerous one.

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