I’d like to be the first to welcome our newest contributor, Doctor Brown.
May (whoever our readership is) enjoy his fresh perspective.
Tropic Thunder, a genuinely amusing — and as is often the case with Frat Pack films, more intelligent that “intelligent critics” give it credit for — has drawn some fire recently from advocates of those who suffer from mental disabilities.
Why? Because of a pervasive use of the words “retard” and “retarded” in conjunction with the description of one of the character’s faux films, “Simple Jack,” in which Ben Stiller’s character, Tugg Speedman, plays a sweetly-retarded character in a box office flop.
Yes — before you say it — I intend to use the word “retarded” in my review of this film.
Now, I can understand why those who went to this movie, or reviewed it because some advocacy group objected to it, might object to certain scenes — the one that springs to mind is when character Kirk Lazarus ( a jive-spouting Robert Downey Jr. in blackface, which I think should be the MOST OFFENSIVE part of this film) tells Speedman that he should never go “full retarded” in a movie, lest the audience lose a sense of connection to the character. This references Tom Hanks’ and Dustin Hoffman’s similar films that won acclaim because being their characters were just dim enough to maintain connection with the audience without going “too retarded”. However, I think once again, advocacy groups are missing the point of the satire in this film.
I don’t remember “Rain Man” drawing fire from autism advocates, but this film exploited –and in an almost vaudevillian manner — the character’s mental disability to critical acclaim. Last time I checked, Dustin Hoffman might have a higher IQ than I do, and I was in gifted and talented class.
So, to be fair, shouldn’t the Special Olympics and ARC of the United States retroactively decry “Rain Man” for its exploitation of a stereotype?
No, of course they shouldn’t. “Rain Man” is a great film. And “Tropic Thunder” is at least a good film that shines light on many of Hollywood’s excesses, including its manipulation of Middle America’s near-subconscious guilt about the mistreatment it levied against the retarded kid in high school.
This brings me to another lesson that I learned in high school, all the way in Jefferson County, West Virginia– a state at which much similarly stereotype-driven humor is often lobbed– satire isn’t for everybody. Fewer and fewer people in this country actually have the intellectual capacity to understand when they are watching or reading satire. Even a comedy film-within-a-film, depicting hyperbolically absurd characters drawn on various Hollywood stereotypes, which begins with obviously fake trailers, is apparently not cue enough for some people to realize that they are watching satire, or the purpose of satire. Satire rarely targets the victims of oppression in society (i.e. the mentally challenged) but the victimizers (i.e. film producers who want to tug at your heart strings with tales of the triumph of “Forrest Gump” so you will buy a movie ticket, a DVD and a soundtrack full of recycled hits from the 1960s and ’70s).
And to those who I view as intelligent peers, who might for what they see as good reason, oppose the victimization of the mentally challenged for amusement, I leave you with this: If you don’t want to see a movie, don’t see it. But, don’t feed me a self-righteous reason for not seeing it, either. This sort of reverse-bigotry (let’s call a spade a spade here) is no less absurd than religious folks boycotting ” Dogma” or ” Saved” — both excellent commentaries on the hypocrisy of organized religion which nevertheless advocate a nuanced spirituality — because they are ” anti-religious” or rejecting ” Brokeback Mountain” because “they’s gays in it.”
This sort of assault on freedom of expression, if people take it seriously, I think seriously jeopardizes the comedy genre. If people aren’t offended, they won’t think, and if we aren’t allowed to offend each other in a playful way, we will be left with nothing but bland reiterations of TGIF for eternity. While I like re-runs of Full House as much as the next guy, I prefer a little more variety, and yes, a little more shock value every once in a while.
There is something deeply unfunny about Joe Scarbourgh complaining about people with a strong partisan bias…
UPDATE: Check out this awkward McCain interview…
UPDATE II: Eric Alterman on the MSNBC dust-up…
It seems that in the newest Newsweek (or at least the online edition) Sean Wilentz went off on Obama… again. This time even more shrilly than previously.
There’s a lot here for me to parse over (especially because today I found my lost copy of the Rise of American Democracy) because I really admire Wilentz, the historian. Few years ago, when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life and was leaning towards going to grad school in history, I went out on a (depressed) whim and bought Wilentz’s epic the Rise of American Democracy (often when I get depressed I buy long history books).
And it blew me away.
Wilentz is – as Historian puts it – a “a romantic populist through and through”. And I think he’s best nationalist romantic writing early American history today. What struck me most about Wilentz’ book is his ability to work in and address non-traditional perspectives into a very traditional narrative. And he can write engaging about nominally boring stuff (ie. legislative debates) and is very good at getting a historical actor’s character across in just a short paragraph. There are problems with the book, namely that in his romanticism Wilentz gives more credit to some people than they deserve (Jackson, Jackson, Jackson), but I argue it stands up as great work of history. (For a useful corrective to the problems in Wilentz’s book see Daniel Walker Howe’s What Hath God Wrought)
Anyway, Wilentz’s book set my historical imagination on fire and really helped push me in the direction I’m on today.
What I used to admire too about the man is how engaged Wilentz was in “public writing” (how could he not be when his hero is Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.?) This is something I admire in those historians who do it and it’s something that I want to do too (when I’m all growns up).
That civic engagement, that public writing, is what brings us here. I think it is obvious that Wilentz is a big fan of the Clintons, one might say in a Schlesigerian sort of way. And throughout the primary Wilentz has manned the ideological trenches for Senator Clinton in the New Republic, Newsweek, and elsewhere.
And as Senator Clinton’s chances declined so did the ideological coherency of Wilentz’s arguments. My problem is not with his thesis, that Clinton rulz and Obama sux, but the increasingly shaky ideological and empirical limb he’s had to get on to defend it.
And I think it’s started to affect Wilentz’s more scholarly work.
I read his last book, The Age of Reagan, because – well – it is a new book by one of my favorite historians. Much of the book is very good, especially its thesis (that Reagan changed America importantly and liberals are going to have to deal with it) and the chapters on Reagan presidency. But there are some serious problems with it. Namely that the chapters on the Carter and Clinton years seem less scholarly rigorous (to this fledgling historian) and more as set up for his critique of Obama. And his discussion of the 2008 primary in his epilogue was simply odd; he described Obama’s coalition as simply being just blacks and “parry leftists and left liberals (notably in college and university towns, where the student vote was large) . There are other examples. Those last few pages are very sloppy and poorly informed.
I think Wilentz, a historian I admired, has allowed an upsetting/disappointing primary get in the way of his historical and ideological judgment. Besides, the limbs Wilentz is willing to stick himself out seems completely unnecessary at this point. Being that his candidate has gone out of her way to make amends with Obama.
What I’d hate would be for a great historian to waste his reputation so unnecessarily and so pathetically.
Padme is listed higher on this list of Star Wars women “who kick ass” than Jainia Solo? Please.
I have discussed this before but, again, Kevin Smith overshares.
Does we really need to know his porn watching habits?
I think not.
I believe that Scott Kurtz is the only man on the fucking planet who could be upset about a good review.
Awhile ago Johanna Draper Carlson, of Comics Worth Reading, (whose work, for the record, I don’t even like) gave a pretty good review of Kurtz (and friends) new book, How to Make Webcomics. Carlson actually had pretty nice things to say about the book, though she noted that Kurtz didn’t give aspiring webcomikers any advice on dealing with/wrangling critics. Oh and she found some editing mistakes.
Now this mild mannered review caused Kurtz to vomit out a long blog post attacking the very foundation of literary criticism!
Kurtz: (bolding is mine)
It’s a notion I’m seeing pop up more and more in the blogosphere. The concept that the critic, or reviewer, plays as important a part in the creation of the work he’s critiquing as the artist himself.
Johanna, as her bi-line informs us of her identity, seems almost put-off that we do not take into account the possibility that critics are ever right.
I’m not sure how I ended up in so many tug-of-war competitions with bloggers, where the outcome of our match determines the superior position: creator or critic. But it seems to be cropping up again. There is a strange sense of entitlement, an eerie assumption of an unspoken working relationship that I am happy to inform does not exist. Why we insulate ourselves from the notion that the external critic can EVER be right, is because their critique is moot in regards to the progression of our work.
There’s a lot here but I think Kurtz is amazing full of himself and is intellectually shooting himself in the foot. Because, basically, critics and creators are two sides of the same coin (like Batman and the Joker!), they have a symbiotic relationship. Without creators critics would have nothing to critique but without critics creators would have no one to absorb and, yes, critique their work. They would be making art in a vacuum.
And no one, like Kurtz, who puts their work on the internets wants to work in a vacuum.
And clearly, there is no value to criticism since, you know, there aren’t universities offering courses and conferring degrees in literary theory and criticism.
Basically, it seems to me that Kurtz wants his audience and his critics to shut up and take it. They must be a passive audience, willing to follow Kurtz over whatever cliff he wants to go for the “sake of his art”. Kurtz’s intellectual radar seems overrun by internet trolls who have nothing of value to say. They seek, not to judge the work of a creator them admire, but instead to cramp his style, to wreck his artistic vision.
Kurtz seems so scared (understandable, mind you) of fan entitlement that he’s locked his mind entirely to criticsm. And that makes him more than a little full of it and himself.
Anyway, this is old news. In today’s PvP, Kurtz has unleashed a new group of super villains on his unsuspecting hero, Lolbat. One of them happens to include ‘The Savage Critic’, a female critic-as super villain. Hey, you know whose also a female critic? Johanna Draper Carlson, of Comics Worth Reading! She also writes (or at least wrote) for the Savage Critic(s). Could ‘The Savage Critic’s’ secret identity be Carlson?
If it was wouldn’t that just be hilarious? Kurtz has turned his critics into a joke. The laughter never stops.
And all of this was over a positive review.