Thursday, June 25, 2009

Free Mrs. Andrew Klavan

I simply could not let this one get away. Thank you, Glenn Greenwald, for bringing this disgusting post to the attention of those who would never in a million years bother to read a pathetic little boy like Andrew Klavan.

Greenwald quotes Klavan's recent evaluation of The Hangover as follows (emphasis mine):

A lot of critics get all huffy about this depiction of the sexes - read the silly little fellow who wrote the review in the New York Times by way of example. The standard line seems to be to blame it all on childish filmmakers pandering to adolescent audiences. But you know what? I suspect a lot of it is simple realism. More and more often I meet young guys just like this: overgrown kids who are their grim wives’ poodles. They sheepishly talk about getting a “pink pass,” or a “kitchen pass,” before they can leave the house. They can’t do this or that because their wives don’t like it. They “share” household and child-rearing tasks equally - which isn’t really equal at all because they don’t care about a clean house or a well-reared child anywhere near as much as their wives do. In short, each one seems set to spend his life taking orders from a perpetually dissatisfied Mrs. who sounds to me - forgive me but just speaking in all honesty - like a bloody shrike. Who can blame these poor shnooks if they go out and get drunk or laid or just plain divorced?

I’m the old-fashioned King of the Castle type: my wife knew it when she married me, she knows it now, and she knows where the door is if she gets sick of it. And you can curse me or consign me to Feminist Hell or whatever you want to do. But when you’re done, answer me this: why would a man get married under any other circumstances? I’m serious. What’s in it for him? I mean, marriage is a large sacrifice for a man. He gives up his right to sleep with a variety of partners, which is as basic an urge in men as having children is in women. He takes on responsibilities which will probably curtail both his work and his social life. If he doesn’t also acquire authority, gravitas, respect and, yes, mastery over his own home, what does he get? Companionship? Hey, stay single, dude, you’ll have a lot more money, and then you can buy companionship.

All right, I know, I’m a mean old man. But I’ve also been blissfully married for 30 years to a woman who wakes up singing. I think some of these young guys have been sold a bill of goods, I really do. I think they’ve been told what they’re supposed to be like and have sacrificed what they are like. Maybe their marriages are more “fair” than mine but just looking at them, I think they’re miserable. And I suspect, deep down, their wives are probably miserable too.

If you ask me, they’d be better off staying in Vegas.

Holy, freakin' crap, are you kidding me? What a wonderful life for a woman - "my way or the highway, bitch." Oh, but I guess he's given his wife what she really wants (his majestic sperm, of course), so that she can fulfill her "basic ... urge" of "having children."

My incredulity knows no bounds.

Greenwald pithily points out that big bad tough guy war hawks like Klavan are usually encouraging other people (including the women they so clearly detest) to go die in foreign countries for them. They wouldn't demean themselves by actually doing the fighting they're so keen to promote.

And God forbid such important, manly men should be expected to do anything so petty as actually want to get married because they're in love with someone, or respect their fellow human beings, even the lady ones.

I say, with all due respect, good luck, Mr. Klavan, I wish you all your just deserts.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Last night TCM played Ninotchka (1939), the wonderful movie that corresponds to the famous tagline "Garbo Laughs!"  Greta Garbo is a bolshevik-to-the-bone official from Moscow who must travel to Paris to supervise three of her bumbling comrades who are having trouble selling off some jewels confiscated during the Revolution.

The duchess who used to own those jewels just happens to also be in Paris, and a fellow former aristocrat (who now serves as a hotel waiter) tells her that her jewels are within reach.  She sends her lawyer/boyfriend, Melvyn Douglas, to get them back.  He and Garbo's stern comrade meet and ... well you can guess the rest: love, night clubs, witty repartee, it's all very 1930's.

And like the best 1930's movies it only gets better the more you think about it.  As these memorable quotes demonstrate, the movie is surprisingly poignant and its anti-communist message is at once hilarious and sympathetic to those who have found themselves caught up in its works.

Take this one, for example:
Leon: What kind of a girl are you, anyway? 
Ninotchka: Just what you see. A tiny cog in the great wheel of evolution. 
Leon: You're the most adorable cog I've ever seen. 

Garbo's performance is legendary - she plays it straight, and her stern comrade's hard-lined Marxisms roll off so naturally that they're easy to almost miss, making this one of those movies that only gets better the more often you watch it.

Yet, like all truly honest accounts of bolshevism and Marxism (as opposed to reactionary, ill-informed braying) the movie allows that there is something seductive about the argument that some should not work for the leisure of others.  Ninotchka is constantly addressing the figures of service that typically silently populate the backgrounds and doorways of glamorous movies.  In doing so, the movie gives these characters (and the true-life counterparts they represent) a voice.  So many movies represent these figures as a silent, undifferentiated mass of bag carriers, waiters, and cigarette girls.  But here they are shown to have individuated personalities, to be concerned about their tips, and to enjoy a good joke as much as the next guy.

Perhaps the most important figure in this respect is Melvyn Douglas's butler.  Douglas asks if the butler wouldn't rather live in a communist state so that he didn't have to do all this serving all the time.  "Far from it" says the butler - it might be nice not to have to serve, but he'd be less than pleased to have to divvy up his life savings with the rest of the state. 

Throughout, the movie keeps up this subtle, nuanced critique of the Soviet Union.  Scholars today are fond of saying that Marx was right about capitalism, but wrong about Communism, and this movie would seem to lend credence to that theory.  It is strange that we subject ourselves to the arbitrary power of "money" and "value," and it is unfortunate that such a system seems to necessarily depend upon valuing people and their work as lowly as possible.  Spend a few hours with an overview of Marx's theories (don't bother sifting through Capital yourself unless you're writing a thesis or something - it's interminable) and see if you don't look at your job a little differently the next day.

And yet, Communism, the supposed solution to this problem, has been soundly debunked.  It doesn't work.  It never did work.  It isn't going to work.  It shouldn't work - under the guise of liberation it denies basic human freedoms.  And this movie makes no bones about it as Garbo and Douglas whip off zinger after zinger like this one:

Ninotchka: The last mass trials were a great success. There are going to be fewer but better Russians.
So, in sum, it is a rather delightful and astute analysis of Communism, made all the more poignant by being filmed in 1939.

But, like so many movies from the 1930's, where it is delightfully "modern" in terms of politics and culture, it suffers on points of gender.

Garbo's Ninotchka is "made a woman" by her love for Douglas's character.  Before she was a stern, hard-working woman with hefty responsibilities.  She fought against the Poles at 16, she has worked her way up through the ranks to become Special Envoy.  She denies her gender, demanding that it not be made into an issue.  She's in charge, end of story.

Until she gets a look at that chic hat, that is.  Yes, dear readers, all the power and authority she's accumulates disintegrates in the face of Parisian fashion - hats, dresses, negliges, slips ... what's a girl to do?  Combine that with a man who'd like to teach you the ways of love, and a woman's defenses are useless.  The movie practically sighs with relief as Ninotchka realizes that she doesn't have to be the big boss lady all the time now that she's got a man who would like to take care of her.  To be so powerful is unnatural in a woman - a point made clear by the fact that the three bumbling comrades, whose bolshevism is skin-deep at best, are also surprised to find that they are being supervised by a woman.

And in this the movie's critique of Communism suffers slightly, as well.  Sure, Paris is great if you have mysteriously limitless funds with which to buy designer clothes, and if some well-intentioned rich man decides to take you under his wing.  But what about those cigarette girls who are only too happy to wear little French Maid outfits and entertain elderly Soviets if it means a good tip?

And what about the Duchess, whom Douglas's character unceremoniously forgets as soon as he sets eyes on the younger, more beautiful Ninotchka?  She falls into that classic stereotype - the rich, older woman who barely deserves an ounce of consideration.  She is manipulative and predatory, pathetically tying younger men to her purse strings so that she won't be all alone - clearly a character worthy of scorn (see also: An American in Paris).  


This movie was remade in 1957's Silk Stockings with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse.  And, being that it's the 1950's, the aforementioned gender themes are amped up by ten.  Charisse does a rather beautiful ballet literally in homage to all the beautiful things she can wear in Paris, and frequently sits at Astaire's knee, explaining how he's taught her that being a woman means completely subsuming yourself to the life a man. 

I know, I know, wipe those tears.  You can have it, too, if you only keep dreaming!

Ninotchka: A+

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Reading today about the plea deal Chris Brown struck, I'm reminded of a little conversation I had with my hair dresser this past week.  Brown and Rhianna were seen at the same basketball game, leading many to speculate that they were getting back together.  My hairdresser brought this up as a Rhianna song came over the radio, saying "She's getting back with him, stupid, stupid girl."

I had been terrified that she would say something like "everyone deserves a second chance" or "it was just one time."  But she didn't.  She said that Rhianna was stupid, which allowed me to relievedly sigh "I know, I'm so sick of hearing that 'he just made a mistake'..."  

In the mirror I saw her shake her head and frown.

"I mean, guys make mistakes, they do ... whatever ... but these two are role models.  They have little kids looking up to them."

And I kept my mouth shut.  I didn't say to this woman, who is a couple years younger than me, that no, guys don't just 'whatever'.  Guys don't just 'make mistakes.'  'Just one time' is one time too many.

I like to think that I was too shocked to know how to properly respond, but I'm afraid that I simply didn't want her to get angry at me and mess up my hair.  And now I'm worried about what insidious falsehood I may have helped to perpetuate.  

Was she speaking from personal experience?  Or for the benefit of another person in the salon?  Is she, or a co-worker struggling to deal with a violent domestic situation?

I don't know, and I've misplaced my chance to have any positive affect on the situation.  Strident declarations that any form of domestic abuse is always cause for ending a relationship probably don't help someone who's fearfully waiting to see if there will be a second time.  I wish I had said something, anything, that would have hinted at all the avenues people have for extricating themselves from such an emotional quagmire ... but even now, days after the fact, I'm not sure what that would be.

I think that everyone knows these things about domestic violence.  That everyone watched the videos in grade school and high school - that everyone had family and friends who reinforced the messages conveyed therein.  But in thinking this, I forget just how damned privileged and hyper-educated I am.  

Confronted with an actual situation, in which I was actually beholden to this woman, to the woman she was protecting, to everyone, to say something - I had no words.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Inside Pandora's Box

One of the few great things about working 9-5 has been my ability to listen to the radio all day every day.  Previous workplaces have required me to keep my radio so low that I couldn't effectively listen to NPR, but at my new place I'm able to listen to the radio at really, rather inappropriate volumes.  My like-minded co-worker and I each have our own space, and are all alone in this big basement, so if you happened to stop by you're likely to hear Terry Gross, Tom Ashbrook, or the sweet, incongruous mashup of rock 'n' roll and folk streaming from my Pandora stations.

The greatest gift that Pandora has given me has been a new and deeper appreciation of early rock's girl groups.  I've always loved the Ronnettes and the Supremes, but where was I before I had ever heard "I Want a Boy For My Birthday?" or "Party Lights?"

Really, who among us hasn't said that we'd like a boy for our birthday?  All the girl power in the world can't really stop a heterosexual 14 year old from wishing that her birthday came complete with a little bit of boyfriend.

Don't get me wrong - despite my obsession with all things vintage, I am not one of those poor deluded few who believe they would have been happier living in the 1950's or 60's (have you seen a girdle?), but the carefree, shameless pining of those good old teenaged-love songs always has, and hopefully always will, strike a chord within my day-dreaming little heart.

Oh, and the wailing awesomeness of "Party Lights" cannot be expressed in words.  I strongly encourage everyone to listen to both!


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sutpen's Hundreds Hall

So, there are enough gushing reviews of Sarah Waters's The Little Stranger that it hardly seems worth the trouble to write another one.  But, considering that I haven't read a contemporary novel in almost three years, I thought it awfully significant that I was compelled to read this one, and did so in approximately 48 hours.

This book is really good.  Like, really, really good.  And creepy, and atmospheric, and thought-provoking, and tricky, and imminently fun to read.

In the best ghost story tradition, The Little Stranger makes the ordinary life of a single house suddenly become extraordinarily unsettling.  Is there really a supernatural presence?  Or have the psyches of the home's residents gone rogue and begun manifesting themselves physically?  Or is someone simply playing a dirty trick?

While a few reviewers found this ambiguity to be dissatisfying, I was only once frustrated with the text.  After the first 100 pages or so, when the ghosting kicks in, I was disappointed to read a paragraph in which the spookiness of a mirror come to life is meticulously explained.

"It was all the more sickening, somehow, for the glass being such an ordinary sort of object . . . it made one feel as though everything around one, the ordinary stuff of one's ordinary life, might all at any moment start up like this and - overwhelm one" (150).

Oh, Sarah Waters, why ruin such a nice moment with such over-explanation?  I was prepared not to like the rest of the book, but thankfully, this was my only moment of real irritation.  I'm sure if I read again calmly I'd find other such small details - but it doesn't matter: I was too busy turning pages, and cautiously observing the suspicious night that had snuck up outside my unshaded window to notice them.

The many themes of the text are right up my alley - Post-war England, a great big house that used to employ dozens of servants and now has only three, the family within trying to make sense of their new place within society, and the outsider who tries to find his place within their place.  The war, the legacy of rigid classism, the many lives that had passed through those walls . . . the setting is perfect for Waters's tale, and it puts me in mind of another ghostly story about a post-war declining aristocracy, Absalom!, Absalom! by William Faulkner.  

There are plenty of surface similarities: The house in The Little Stranger is called "Hundreds Hall" and the house in Absalom!, Absalom! is called "Sutpen's Hundred."  Both occur after a cataclysmic war (WWII and the Civil War, respectively), and both are told from the point of view of outsiders who find themselves drawn into the webs being woven and re-woven inside these homes' majestic decay.

Faulkner's masterpiece is a good counter-balance to Waters's thriller.  Faulkner's story unfolds in a swirling mess of narrative asides, parentheses, and re-tellings.  The whirl-pool spins and spins, touching only the edges of the story before sucking you in, down to the bottom where it all rests.  But Waters's linearly (if unreliably) narrated story of memory and place is complemented by Faulkner's drastically un-linear narrative.  Faulkner's maelstrom mimics the storytelling in our own lives.  His text alternately remembers, forgets, and repeats, just as we do so often.  

The ghosts haunting each story may only be the shadows of regret, our yearning for the past, or the inner-selves we repress in the light of society - but that's not going to stop you from looking a little differently at that darkened closet the next time you shut your eyes.

So, with great pleasure I heartily recommend both books!  And would love to hear from anyone else who's read either one.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Power of Sympathy*

E.M. Forster’s Howards End puts me in a typical quandry.

Either I:

A.) Admit my initial impressions that this is a very engaging book that takes a rather progressive woman’s perspective; that this book advocates for women and gender equality - only to have it later pointed out to me that my impressions are incredibly wrong and the book is in fact a sexist attempt by a manipulative man to forward his own patriarchal agenda by making it 
seem like the woman’s perspective.


B.) Wait to express any opinion until I’ve read the “established” opinions of other scholars – then draw my own conclusions, which, invariably are heavily influenced by the things I’ve read.

Which brings up the point that I am, unfortunately, the world’s most sympathetic reader.  My friends and colleagues have been quick to point out that this is a virtue, not a vice, but existing in the competitive world of English Graduate Studies, it’s hard to convince myself.  When everyone else shows up with their articles eviscerated by scrawling, angry denunciations, it’s hard to look at one’s own carefully highlighted copy and not feel that you’ve been had.  “Actually, that just means that you’re not a dick,” says one helpful friend, “trying to make your own reputation by skewering others without actually giving their arguments a fair hearing.”

“You’re a generous reader, and I encourage and appreciate your generous readings...” says Michael Levenson, as I try to find a way to rescue “Melanctha” from the pits of utter racism (maybe it’s actually about the problem of a limited vocabulary – we’re all necessarily racist when we only have so many ways of referring to each other.  Maybe it’s actually Stein’s way of begging for a more nuanced form of language!) “...but no.  I think in this case it’s safe to say that this is a racist text.”

Well, for what it’s worth, I think it’s nice that Forster gives voice to the double standard, that the heroine flat-out tells her husband “you’re using a double standard when judging your sexuality and my sister’s.”  And I guess you could say that 
Howards End is all about what to do with these new women who quite literally leave their father’s house to find one of their own?  The back of my cheap-o Vintage Paperback edition has a quote from Lionel Trilling that says, essentially, who will inherit England?  Will it be the artistic, the bold, or the conventional?

Ultimately, I’m afraid to say that I don’t really care.  
Howards End was a wonderful read, and I believe it’s  a wonderful book, but it didn’t move me to want to explore its themes the way other books have.  Maybe it’s the simple fact that it takes place in England, and I’m so hopelessly mired in my fascination of all things American right now.

Maybe it’s that I finished the book two weeks ago and its joys have already been usurped by Frank Norris’s The Pit

I quite simply don’t have much to say about it – but check back tomorrow when I’ll have read other people’s opinions about the book and, not doubt, have decided that it’s an endlessly fascinating piece of work about why men should take back England from the hysterical women who are running it into the ground.


*Shout-out to all you 18th Century American Novel buffs!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Ferrell Bear Extravaganza

So, Will Ferrell was on "Man vs. Wild" last night with Bear Grylls.  If you have no idea who, or what I'm talking about, you have no idea what you're missing.  My future husband and I have a collective TV-crush on Bear Grylls.  He's an ex-British Ranger who gets dropped off into inhospitable locales and has to find his way out.

It's your typical survivor show, except that Bear himself is unbelievably charming in that typical, dry, subtle British way.  He'll bite a snake in half (literally), and say "hm, not the best."

The show's opening disclaimer hilariously says "situations are sometimes presented to Bear so that he can demonstrate survival techniques."  I love the thought of a crew looking around the Swiss Alps and saying, "hm, it looks like that snow shelf would fall if you tread on it, let's see what happens if Bear tries."

The situation presented to him last night was dragging Will Ferrell's ass out of the arctic circle.  I'm not a huge fan of Will Ferrell, but last night's show was freakin' hilarious.  I cannot, for the life of me, find a clip of the scene right after they landed, but picture it:

Will Ferrell fills the left of the frame, eating the emergency twinkie (ten minutes in) and discussing a variety of silly things, while over his left shoulder, Bear Grylls scrambles up an ice embankment gathering twigs.

The camera work was impeccable, and Will Ferrell didn't overpower the hour.  He was, after all, actually stuck in the Arctic Circle, actually descending mountains, wading through the snow for hours, etc.  If this Will Ferrell were in the movies, I would enjoy them a lot more.

It's replaying tomorrow, and I'm sure many more times after that on the Discovery Channel.  It is well worth the watch!

Small Things

Quick Post: My co-worker just went off to a Dr.'s appointment, and I reiterated some of the doctor-going advice she and I have discussed in the past.  You know, stuff along the lines of "be specific" "don't be afraid to run down every single symptom you've ever felt," and "make him answer all your questions."

Catch that?

That's right, yours truly, assumed that her doctor would be a man.

One more thing: what has happened to two of my favorite things: Television Without Pity and XXFactor ?  The TV Website that used to be a haven for snark-loving smart kids like myself is now spewing factually inaccurate, E-Entertainment style drivel. 

The where do I begin with the monstrosity that is the new "Double X"??  Hm, let's take the absolute best blog on and relegate it to a pink-emblazoned, "chick corner" of the internet.  Let's surround the blog with incipience on interior design and make sure it's all housed in an unwieldy, ugly format with multiple bugs.  And, while we're at it, let's significantly lower the standards for content, such that a "blog post" may now consist of two sentences of background info, one humongous block quote, and two final sentences about how "interesting" the block quote is.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Whispering on NPR

So, I wrote this post about two weeks ago, thinking that I had actually posted it to the blog.  I had not.  I have been neglectful, but only because I've been stressing to find a place in my new home.  By the way, I'm already sick of horses, horse metaphor, and horse lingo.  You are on notice, Kentucky.

So, this untimely post will have to do for today, but tune back in soon for my thoughts on the most fabulous of topics, including: the weird, more than a little creepy tombstone for "America" a wack-a-doo in Charlottesville has erected (to include a discussion of none other than Herr Karl Marx) ; Today's second hour of On Point Radio, and the notion that our entire lives have become corporatized ; the funny things you hear on Pandora (a hint) ; movies: Valkyrie, Drag Me to Hell, and Terminator ; and books: E.M. Forster's Howards End

Why, whenever people get on NPR, do they insist upon whispering?  My guess is that they’re simply not close enough to the mic, or that the local radio station where they’re sitting doesn't have good enough sound equipment.

Either way, it’s painful to listen to – just when they get to the crux of the sentence, they seem to lilt ever more softly, as if this in itself indicates the seriousness of what they’re saying.  The different voices heard on NPR  and other media outlets are fascinating.

When I say “poem voice” do you know what I’m talking about?  That voice that otherwise normal-speaking people affect whenever they begin to recite verse?  Because poetry is ... Serious ... Ephemeral ... More Important Than Ordinary Words ...

True, true, and true.  Which is why we don’t need to say them in a stupid, ostentatious way.  Poems are serious, ephemeral and more important than ordinary words because of the way they’re written, not because of the tone they’re read in.

Which is why I find that “poem voice” is most often affected when reading what I consider [one’s own] really bad poetry.  You know, the kind of poetry that obtains the term “poem” merely by being a few otherwise grammatically normal sentences broken up over multiple lines?  If you didn’t use poem voice for these poems it would be more obvious that “hey, that lady’s just reading a few sentences!” (

Don’t get me wrong, there are certain ways that one’s inflection or pacing should be changed when reading a poem – but they usually have something to do with the content of the poem. Like a song (imagine that!) it doesn’t work to sing every song in the same “song voice” -  you have to give inflection to a song based upon its individual character.

Second only to “poem voice” is “scholar voice” which is often accompanied by a slight backward tilt and subtle shake to the head, the gentle half-closing of the eyes, and repetitive, slow, circular gesticulations.

See: Graduate English Department.