On the Responsibility of Privilege (Message from the Management)

Sorry I’m not sorry for he who lost his critic gig over his latest inappropriate comment. I am personally very fond of him, will always be regardless of this post, but I believe in heeding the responsibility of public positions.

Referencing rape as a vehicle for “humor” –using the image of a rape, no less–is bad blood in any universe, regardless of the backstory of what transpired on the set of Last Tango. Yes, the comment was on a private social media page but we all know the minute we press send on a social media post it’s not private–especially when you’re a published writer of no small repute. The bottom line is the profound entitlement that such a comment indicates.

All critics have privilege even though most of us are badly paid and badly published. The privilege is that we are paid anything to air our opinions. (It’s of note that the one in question until recently held three of the handful of plum critic gigs left in the country.) That we therefore must be clear and considerate in our commentary–not necessarily deferential but respectful of audience and subject–seems a given.

Thus we do not review the first significant film about a Marvel female superhero by mostly discussing whether we find the lead actress attractive. We do not discuss whether we find a tween actress alluring in the context of a children’s film review. We do not speak nostalgically of the good old days of racism. And we do not, in any context, use rape as a vehicle for humor–especially in the #metoo era that, thank god, has made everyone aware that female audiences/perspectives/experiences are valid. That he made any of these comments speaks of entitlement. That after raising hackles again and again he continued not to check himself–that he continued to issue non-apology apologies rivaling Lena Dunham’s–speaks of toxic flagrant entitlement (and arguably self-destruction, for which I privately feel compassion).

Most of us “others” have to think not once, not twice, but many, many times before we open our mouths, press send, walk down an empty street if we are to maintain our livelihood and in many cases our lives. This always has been the case. God forbid white straight men who occupy public real estate be expected to check themselves even minimally in order to honor the social contract. If we’re in the midst of a pretty major cultural overcorrection–and we are–it’s necessary in that privilege must be publicly checked. It’s time we all grew up–including those who’ve been taught to ignore the line between compassion and self-erasing codependence. And especially those who’ve been playing the boys-will-be-boys card for far too long without the good grace to admit it.

Yes, I’m cognizant that I’m pressing send now too…

Thanksgiving ‘Playtime’

Years ago, I saw Jacques Tati’s Playtime in 70mm on the enormous screen of Champagne, Illinois’ Virginia Theater. I’d just dashed in from a spring thunderstorm that had liberated me from a fussy outdoor cocktail party, and the film’s awkward, swooping grace–alternately eager and morose, denatured and abloom–was just what the doctor ordered. I thought I’d never find a more ideal context in which to see the 1967 masterpiece, but on this very cold Thanksgiving, I ducked into a morning screening at the Lower East Side’s Metrograph. Shoulder to shoulder with other refugees from the most family-oriented, ideologically ill-conceived holiday of the year, I didn’t just feel community. I felt communion.

Tati mounted an entire mid-20th century cosmopolis outside of Paris for his poker-faced pratfall in gloriously technicolor drab, and its mostly noverbal story is conveyed so lucidly that the few spoken lines and handful of languages in which they are uttered are virtually irrelevant. Following a host of mid-‘60s characters through one day in this sound-stage Paris, the film’s protagonist is the human race itself as seen through a National Geographic sort of lens. As stylized as a Buster Keaton jig with Ayn Rand sharp corners and floppy flowered hats, every moment recalls the very droll mis-en-scenes buried in more narrative-driven films of the same era. Imagine a whole film cut from the same swoon as that infamous Breakfast at Tiffany’s party scene–the heiresses, vamps, barking agents, woman laughing, woman crying, treacherously long cigarette holder, prowling Cat, and Irving baby, o Irving baby. (Imagine a life cut of that cloth as well.) Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy