Archive for the ‘Goddam Idiots’ Category
(thanks for many of these to the great people at Retronaut)
So here’s the thoroughly charming duet with Elmo that got Katy Perry booted off Sesame Street:
The great bogeyman “parent protests” won this battle just by showing up on the field: to save itself a headache PBS caved in to a handful of puritanical whiners, leaving the hard work of defending free speech and common-sense to some other luckless sap. (It’s sure to be the saddest lesson kids will learn on Sesame Street this year.) Since no normal pre-pubescent child would ever notice Ms. Perry’s chest without some helpful adult writing F-I-L-T-H across it with a Sharpie pen, the parents are clearly registering their own reaction to her body. And because (unless you have a thing for Elmo) it’s all occurring in the most innocent possible context (even the song is a plea for emotional constancy), these prigs really are saying that the tops of a young woman’s breasts are objectionable in themselves—which, I gotta say, is both mind-boggling and kind of exciting, because it’s also very, very dirty. In fact, if anyone here can explain to me how, except by degree, this is any different from the Taliban and all of their crazy-ass shame-based bullshit about the female body, there’s a plateful of blueberry pancakes in it for you.
Meanwhile, over at Slate the professional busybody Emily Yoffe (aka “Dear Prudence”), who earns a living by solving “problems” that would make the average Somali laugh bitterly in your face, is busy having this exchange:
Two colleagues and I own a business. We are all good friends and do great work together. Our dress code tends to be somewhat formal, but we don’t have a specific uniform. One of us has been showing up lately for professional events braless, very obviously so. This concerns the other two of us, because we have a relatively conservative clientele, the market has been extremely cutthroat for the service we offer, and we always want to put our best foot forward. Is one of us “nipping out” a big deal? The two of us who wear bras have been trying to dress by example, but our third colleague doesn’t seem to notice. Should we mention it and, if so, how? Should just one of us take her aside? Or should we drop it?
—Mountains out of Molehills?
There you two are, trying to put your best foot forward, but all anyone notices is her bouncing chest. If her lack of undergarments is so obvious, your female clients are going to wonder what’s up (or not) with your partner. And your male clients are going to have a hard time focusing on your actual message when she’s sending such a distracting subliminal one. So she doesn’t feel ganged up on, before the next presentation, one of you should bring up the two of hers. Do it with as little drama as possible. Say something like, “Marissa, we’ve noticed that at the last few meetings, you’ve been going braless. That is just not a professional enough look for the image we’re trying to convey. So please truss up your gals.” Let’s hope she takes to heart that you’re just being supportive.
Is there a single line of this drivel that doesn’t make you want to spew? It’s all so neutered and boringly affable, it’s like the verbal equivalent of mom jeans. Note that we’re never given any information that would be actually useful in diagnosing the situation, such as which industry the women service, what kind of “professional events” the colleague is attending, whether the clothes she does wear are appropriate, whether any clients have complained about her, and whether or not she is known to have cost the company a penny’s worth of revenue. Instead we’re treated to that ghastly faux collegiate tone and a snotty assertion—“All anyone notices is her bouncing chest”—that isn’t backed up by even a whisper of evidence.
But other parts of Prudie’s advice caught my eye, too, beginning with: “[Your] male clients are going to have a hard time focusing on your actual message when she’s sending such a distracting subliminal one.” You want to know somethin’? A long, long time ago, back in the 1970s, there were these funny creatures running around who were called “feminists”. Oh, they were a pissed-off bunch of bitches alright, but if you listened to them long enough they began to make a lot of sense, and one of the things they made greatest sense about was how their actions didn’t necessarily mean what men might want them to mean. A lot of women back then didn’t wear bras—some to make a political statement, some to make a statement no bigger than “I don’t like the damn things”—yet somehow the engine of capitalism didn’t come flying off the rails. More to the point, if a man ever suggested that a woman’s bralessness was actually a “subliminal message” to him, he was usually disabused of the notion with extreme prejudice. Indeed, this happened enough times that guys eventually began to understand that a woman showing up braless—at school, in a meeting, or even on a date—didn’t necessarily mean that she wanted to break in a box-spring with them. In fact—and here was the gargantuan leap—it might not have anything to do with them at all.
And then there’s this:
So she doesn’t feel ganged up on, before the next presentation, one of you should bring up the two of hers. Do it with as little drama as possible. Say something like, “Marissa, we’ve noticed that at the last few meetings, you’ve been going braless. That is just not a professional enough look for the image we’re trying to convey. So please truss up your gals.”
Yeah, that’s the ticket, baby! Work her, but don’t let her feel ganged up on, even though that’s exactly you’re doing. And keep the drama down, for heaven’s sake! If crazy ol’ “Marissa” is willing to walk around in undergarments of her own choosing, God knows what psycho reaction she and her giant floppy tits might have if you simply approach her with your concerns. (She might even have a reasonable comeback to your objections.) I swear, if any adult professional woman thinks a line like “Truss up your gals” is anything other than sick-making in the extreme, having a braless colleague is the least of her problems. She needs to forget about doing grown-up things like running a business or slagging her friends in Slate, and stick to watching Sesame Street.
How bad are the Oscars? How about this bad: even when they do something absolutely righteous, they can still turn your stomach. It’s been known for a week or two that the Academy wants to give Jean-Luc Godard one of those honorary Oscar doohickeys, and when the decision was announced it actually hit a soft spot in me, for if there’s one sure bet in this world, it’s that Godard’s feelings about the tinseled, self-congratulatory, power-stroking side of Hollywood are no pose or put-on, but represent a case of unalloyed Pure-D Real McCoy disgust. Surely, the Academy’s decision-makers understood this, too, just as they must also understand that there’s actually a negative percent chance that the 80-year old director would fly all the way to California just to thank a bunch of dozing, half-drunk millionaires.
And yet they did it anyway. Well, bully for them, I thought. I like people who can climb down off their high horse for a good cause, and Hollywood has no better cause than letting the most important director of the last 60 years know that, however much they courted William Friedkin and Clint Eastwood in that time, they’ve always kept one eye on him and his accomplishments. That they’d give this skinny little avant-garde frog the same award that Gish and Chaplin and Bob Fucking Hope all took home, knowing full well what mischief he could wreak with the opportunity should he choose to—well, it all bespoke a bigger, less hidebound Academy than I’m used to seeing. I liked it even better when I heard they’re giving the same award to the film historian Kevin Brownlow, a move showing that someone’s definitely awake at the switch.
As it turns out, though, the train is pulling back into the same old station. There was no risk, no big moment planned after all. The awards for Godard, Brownlow, Eli Wallach, and Francis Coppola are all to be handed out in a separate ceremony in November, three long months before the televised gala that everybody in the world thinks of as “the Oscars”. This would be a pisser even if it affected only Wallach—a Hollywood man if ever there was one, he’s still answering the bell at 94 in The Ghost Writer—but this is the thanks Kevin Brownlow gets? That freaking Godard gets? Well—fine, then. To paraphrase another bunch of undervalued losers, “You can take your trophy and shove it straight up your ass.”
Just to prove I’m not a hard-hearted man, here’s some news that’s a little more encouraging to the human spirit, the obituary for Deputy Inspector Seymour Pine, passed away age 91:
In 2004, Inspector Pine spoke during a discussion of the Stonewall uprising at the New York Historical Society. At the time of the raid, he said, the police “certainly were prejudiced” against gays, “but had no idea about what gay people were about”….When someone in the audience said Inspector Pine should apologize for the raid, he did.
The context of that apology gets fuller airing in this account, which also contains Pine’s classic line: “If I had known that Judy had died at that point, I wouldn’t have had the raid.”
Having a smoke downstairs and a coworker, funny-talking guy about my age, comes strolling back up to the building. Rough summary:
Tom: Nice day out here.
Guy: Yes, except for the black racist I just met.
Tom (mentally): Here we go.
Guy: A black guy up at the corner is yelling “Racist!” at all the white drivers. I gave him a look so he yells “Racist!” at me. I say “No, mate, you’re the one who’s racist.” Just because [rubbing his forearm] he, he’s got a little skin condition, he calls me a racist!
Guy: Do you understand this? I’m from South Africa! How can I be racist?
Not for the first time, how hard is it to take a step back from yourself?
Well, I didn’t leave town and—like a good fucking boy—I managed to stay sober the whole weekend, so that must mean I threw a lot of money away on a goddam video game player I didn’t really want and definitely don’t need. What the hell was I thinking? At least it got me through Saturday, when my next door neighbor started playing a 20-minute loop of some guy yakking for a while, followed by a spare but loud bass guitar and finally a monotonous techno drumbeat that came throbbing through the wall, beginning at 8 a.m. and running with nary a break until 9 p.m.—note the difference in meridians there—at which point he finally put on some regular music, but not without first cranking up the volume and maintaining this new level until two in the morning. I was like, fine, fuck, whatever. It was Gay Pride Weekend, and since anyone needing to celebrate his fabulous Otherness at such a pitch should be allowed to knock himself out once a year, I just cranked up my headphones and kept on killing off outlaw gangs in Red Dead Redemption. But then on Sunday morning—that holiest, most heterosexual of mornings—I was just picking the croissant crumbs out of my teeth at 9 a.m. when that monotonous thud set my wall to shivering again.
See, I’ve got an anger management problem that keeps me from fully embracing life. I believe in “Live and let live” and all that other bonny crap, but I require a certain amount of peace and quiet to keep the lid clamped down on my tortured fucking soul, plus I’ve got a lot of resentment issues which make it hard for me to express my needs without going off in people’s faces. So I was sitting here doing deep-breathing exercises and planning out just how I was going to approach this maniac, and what sort of tone I’d adopt to achieve the most productive, beneficial outcome for both of us and blah-blah-blah, when I see Wolfman Jack himself standing out on his back deck. Only he’s not Dan Savage or a pompous 20-something shitbird in a faux-hawk or porkpie hat, but just a gangly, uncertain 17 year old kid from Hong Kong, here to visit old Mr. Lee next door, and who hustles back indoors to turn the music down the second I bring the subject up. Which was swell, as it left me plenty of time to concentrate on the goddam video game and thereby waste a beautiful sunny Sunday. Really, I’d have been better off drunk in Death Valley.
At least I saw some good movies the last few days. Days and Nights in the Forest is something special, even for Satyajit Ray. It’s the Ray movie whose rhythms and complications seemed most familiar to me as a Western viewer, even if its setup resembles movies as diverse as I Vitelloni, The Big Chill, and the early (and best) part of Deliverance, where the cocksure city-slickers entertain themselves by mocking the country rubes. In Days and Nights four friends from Calcutta—all young, male and well-to-do—spend a few days in a remote bungalow, a break which brings out their various attitudes toward authority, toward women, toward working and art and alcohol and sex, each of them colored by their relative affluence and the lingering aftereffects of the British Raj. Days and Nights sustains one of the freest atmospheres in a movie this side of California Split: in no order, and according to no plan, the men nap, bathe, hit a backwater bar, take walks, read, play games, and bicker, bicker, bicker. (It nails the tensions that can settle in between friends who are sharing close quarters.) Eventually they befriend two young women, one of whom (the awesomely talented, supremely beautiful Sharmila Tagore) is given to Western customs; by comparison, her sister-in-law, a plain-faced young widow who’s playing badminton in a sari when we meet her, comes across like a drip. But Ray does what Laurence Cantet did with the crab-like union leader in Human Resources, and encourages our prejudices against a character just so he can later knock them down. By the end of Days and Nights in the Forest—and what a great title that is—I felt more for the sister-in-law than anyone else in the film.
After trashing Scorsese the other day, I was a bit abashed when I gave The Departed a second chance and realized how much I like it, with a lot of the things I admired most coming from William Monahan’s fresh-mouthed, death-obsessed screenplay. Along with the scripts for Chinatown and Midnight Run, it’s a model for a certain type of genre picture; the first 20 minutes in particular smoothly ping-pong around, unscrambling the complicated backstory of its three main characters with a figure-skater’s elegance. Overall Monahan crafted so many intensely focused scenes with fresh, pungent conviction that one only wishes certain other filmmakers, like the guy responsible for that pointlessly blabby, rough-draft mess called Inglourious Basterds, could catch a clue from it.
John Simon, whom you may have noticed is hardly ever discussed nowadays, regularly disgraced himself a generation ago by pouncing on the personal traits and physical features of actresses he happened not to like, always under the guise of judging their “fitness” for their roles. As a critical practice it would’ve seemed only inane and slightly creepy had Simon not invested his takedowns with such acidic gusto: he interpreted his subjects’ homeliness as such a slap at his lofty standards that he’d take a verbal scalpel to their faces, painting the unsightly hags with their unmitigated gall as unfit not just for the silver screen but human society in general. (A typical “insight”: “Sandy Dennis has balanced her postnasal condition with something like prefrontal lobotomy, so that when she is not a walking catarrh she is a blithering imbecile.”) Simon coolly rationalized that people presumptuous enough to fill a forty-foot screen with their faces ought to handle the flak along with the laurels, and while that’s true, it doesn’t explain the sadistic relish he brought to his work half as well as the idea that he was a moral homunculus who got off on writing demeaning shit about women.
This is all by way of saying that my biggest surprise this weekend came when I found myself enamored with a Renée Zellweger romcom. Renée and me, we don’t really get along, and I hate to admit how much of it has to do with her face. I simply can’t look at her without thinking about castor oil, nor does it help that in her movies she’s merely pretending to act, which is something different than actually acting. Vera Farmiga doesn’t ring my bell either but she’s clearly loaded with talent, and though it may mystify her high-school classmates to see her making out with Matt Damon or George Clooney, it never feels like it came to pass only because mysterious forces were at work deep within the earth’s core.
Peyton Reed’s Down with Love hasn’t made me a Zellweger fan—nothing will ever accomplish that—but if I saw her choking on a chicken bone today I’d probably give her the Heimlich Maneuver. An incredibly knowing pastiche of those sexless sex comedies from the early ’60s, Down with Love isn’t close to being as consistently funny as Airplane! or This Is Spinal Tap, but it’s funny enough and it’s the richer work—a genuine pomo study of gender politics. (It puts Far From Heaven out to pasture altogether.) Reed, the writers Eve Ahlert and Dennis Drake (their only other major credit is the Legally Blonde sequel), and the production team studied the hell out of those old Doris Day-Cary Grant-Rock Hudson monstrosities, then stitched together a Frankenstein of their own from a million old tropes and gags.
Set in the Manhattan of 1962, the movie follows the sexual and romantic exploits of Zellweger, the author of a bestselling proto-feminist manifesto, and Ewan MacGregor, a chauvinistic magazine publisher who’s caught somewhere between Hefner and Bond. All of the old clichés are here, including MacGregor’s plan to bed Zellweger by impersonating a chaste, Southern, glasses-wearing astronaut (“Major Zip Martin”), a boardroom stuffed with old fogies who all go by their initials, a brassy gal-pal and confidant for Zellweger (Sarah Paulson) and a Tony Randall-like sidekick for MacGregor (a perfect David Hyde Pierce), and—the cherry on top—the real Tony Randall, in a bit part. The old movies’ style has been inflated, particularly in the women’s eye-scorching clothes, to make it play not as the exact replica of a Doris Day comedy, but as something someone with a slight fever might dream about one. (The men’s clothes are more sedate, but even there Down with Love captures something essential, especially in the late-night conversation between MacGregor, clad in his bathrobe, and Pierce, who’s just run in from the rain in a businessman’s trenchcoat.) Even the old-school look is sent up: Zellweger’s and MacGregor’s her and his penthouse apartments both have views of a spectacular but conspicuously artificial New York skyline, and at one point they share a phone call which, through the split-screen technique once favored for such situations, looks like they’re providing each other with oral sex throughout the conversation. The one cliché almost everyone would nominate as most typical of the genre—the climactic race to the airport—is the only one that never appears. Instead Down with Love has its own ending, one that celebrates the ascension of feminism while quietly implying that nobody—and women least of all—ever wanted its goals to come to pass.
This got by me at the time but Glenn Kenny just linked to it over at Some Came Running. It’s a certified jawdropper, with a mangled fact, false assumption, bad faith argument, or reductio ad absurdum anchoring almost every single point of Stephen Metcalf’s argument. He may be a chucklebutt! But I digress. I’m splitting in the morning or I’d conjure up a longer response (I still might do it later on just because I’m one of those deluded simps who sees something more than “excruciating necessities” at work when Ethan Edwards gets his first view of the burning cabin), but anybody who understands why I’d care in the first place can probably fill in the blanks themselves. However, since Metcalf slings the terms around so freely, I’ll just quickly mention how sickly the whole concept of the Fill-in-the-Art-Form “geek/nerd/dork/fanboy” has become. You really want the world to see you as some adenoidal twerp who likes slapping his hands in his own shit and then rubbing it in his hair? Well, then, baby, have at it. It doesn’t really look good on you, though, and you aren’t doing the arts you claim to love any favors either.
At a key point of the movie Chinatown the main villain, Noah Cross, a man who’s raped both the land and his own daughter, gives private investigator Jake Gittes a classic piece of advice: “You may think you know what you’re dealing with, but believe me, you don’t.” That’s a humbling bit of wisdom even when it’s coming from a monster, yet the Roman Polanski case is dredging up memories of both the O.J. trial and Monicagate for the tsunami of shrill certainty that it’s generated. Every four years the Winter Olympics come along and our co-workers become overnight experts on the Triple Lutz, and whenever one of these celebrity morals cases comes down the pike, we suddenly become authorities on events we didn’t witness involving people we never met.
If there’s anyone who I’m happier not to be than Polanski right now, it’s Anne Applebaum, the Washington Post columnist who’s spent much of the last two weeks taking it on the chin for her blog posts defending the director after his arrest in Switzerland. The first one, published under a headline that reads like a kick-me sign—“The Outrageous Arrest of Roman Polanski”—was greeted by a shit-storm of jeering mockery, and that was the polite response. Most of Applebaum’s readers contented themselves with draping giant Day-Glo arrows and smiley-faces around the weak points in her post (it was, as they say, a target-rich environment), but a number of them walked out to the point of wishing that Applebaum—or even her daughter—might receive some moral tutelage in the form of being raped. Applebaum fired back with a spectacularly counterproductive second post whose mealy-mouthed rationalizations of her first post only gave rise to another round of cat-calls and ill wishes. The blog Lawyers, Guns and Money, meanwhile, zeroed in on the factual shortcomings in her arguments, torching each of them in turn and burning them to the ground.
Elsewhere in the Polanski Thunderdome, Salon followed up their earlier takedown of the pro-Polanski documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired with a white-hot Kate Harding article under the unsubtle headline Reminder: Roman Polanski Raped a Child. Whoopi Goldberg unhelpfully offered the idea that Polanski hadn’t committed “rape rape,” Woody Allen unhelpfully signed the pro-Polanski petition, and the rightwing unhelpfully did what it always unhelpfully does: it tried to turn the whole issue into the Antietam of the Culture Wars, except that this time they had a point. Finally, Cokie Roberts, a woman who’s probably thought about Polanski for all of twenty seconds in the last thirty years, but who knows red meat when she sees it, reacted to the sound of his name by suggesting out loud that we “just take him out and shoot him.” Her graceless laughter after her quip didn’t make her look any less inhuman.
The folks who want to string Polanski up alternate between around-the-clock all-caps outrage and wallowing in the pornographic details of the photo shoot on Jack Nicholson’s deck, while his defenders act like frightened octopi, squirting ink in every direction as they dart backwards from the case’s central facts. One side wants to only discuss what happened on a single afternoon 32 years ago; the other side wants to talk about everything except that day. Yet both sides exhibit a breathtaking amount of moral certainty for a case that’s riddled with U-turns and unique circumstances, the most recent being a former D.A.’s astonishing announcement that he lied in the documentary about a critical discussion. The end result is that neither the straightforward nor the complicated elements of the case can give anybody pause because everyone’s having too good a time Being Right, like a dog rolling in its own crap. The Polanski haters think that yelling HE RAPED A LITTLE GIRL should trump everything, even when his victim just wants everyone to get over it already; meanwhile, his defenders never tire of reminding us that PEOPLE GET AWAY WITH MUCH, MUCH WORSE STUFF EVERY DAY. The idea that Dick Cheney—the closest thing to a living, breathing Noah Cross we’re ever likely to see—will never do the perp walk is a galling thing indeed, but that has fuck-all to do with Roman Polanski.
So much of the debate has focused on whether Polanski should have been arrested it’s obscured the fact that he has been arrested—and so where do we go from here? Do Applebaum, Goldberg & Co. really believe he should just be given a handshake and turned out on the street? I have to say, my own feelings on the subject have moved a great deal in the last week or so, largely for the same reason I think it was wrong of Bill Clinton to lie in his deposition no matter how rigged it was. It’s pretty clear that Polanski’s arrest resulted from a series of events—the documentary, the motion to dismiss—which the L.A. District Attorney’s Office looked on as nose-thumbing dares to bust him, but now that he’s in custody I don’t see a viable alternative to extraditing him. He had his reasons for fleeing, sure, but all felons have their reasons, and usually without the chance of getting off with a 90-day sentence. At this point it’s all come down to one of those baseline “What do we expect of our society?” questions, such as “Is it okay for a president to lie under oath?” It doesn’t matter how you get there; once you’re there, things have to go a certain way or you need to junk the system altogether. America’s criminal justice system is wonky precisely because its scales are so perpetually out of balance; letting a 30-year fugitive (and confessed rapist) off the hook isn’t the way to address the fact that the L.A. justice department has some shitheads in it. In fact, letting him go wouldn’t address it at all.
But that’s just me. Chinatown remains a great film—we still agree on that much, don’t we?—because it’s the truest, coldest picture there is about the world’s failure to live up to our ideals. No happy endings awaited Jake Gittes despite his best intentions, and the likeliest outcome facing Roman Polanski can’t help but leave a bitter taste in my mouth. My best guess is that he’s headed to prison, quite possibly for the rest of his life. You’re soft in the head if you think he didn’t bring it on himself, but if seeing a great artist come to such a tawdry end makes you want to whoop and crow, I don’t know what to tell you—it’s probably not anything good, though. Beyond that I’m not hazarding any guesses. That way lies Chinatown.