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May 04, 2012

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Petey

I already saw the SLJ comment and immediately thought of the last paragraph of your MSN review, Glenn.

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And thanks for reminding me. I read Fussell's Class soon after publication, and I've been meaning to re-read it for the last couple of years to see how well it holds up. Now I remember.

Vadim

Lots of Fussell's work is really good. BAD, or the Dumbing of America is grouchy but hilarious even when it's misguided. Abroad has lots of guidance for British travel reading and a scathing exegesis on tourism. Obviously The Great War and Modern Memory is still pretty essential. I have a copy of Wartime around when I'm ready too. He's the best.

Not David Bordwell

Hey, come on now, putting Samuel Jackson in the context of Samuel Johnson via Paul Fussell is a little unfair, isn't it? This reminds me of when I stopped reading Ray Pride in New City when he compared George Lucas to Georg Lukacs upon the rerelease of the original Star Wars trilogy... not quite as egregious, but still.

Is no one bothered by how quickly the intelligentsia threw accusations of philistinism at the man for a motherfuckin' tweet? It's easy to direct fits of pique at the source of the perceived diss with this new-fangled social media -- imagine what William Schwenk Gilbert would have done with it after the reviews of Princess Ida landed. And Jackson is the kind of guy who tends to defend his choices pretty flippantly... "You either wanna see that kind of movie, or you don't."

I'm not quite sure how exactly to express my discomfort with the overreaction to Jackson's overreaction, but there's something ugly about it. Over at MCN, they all but called him "uppity."

Glenn Kenny

@NotDavidBordwell: I understand that there's a large contextual gulf between the two, but I believe the Fussell principle holds. For what it's worth, I was arguing the topic last night with a filmmaker friend and he was fuming over the idea of accountability—that the critic seems to operate in a sphere in which he doesn't have any, and that when he's wrong or egregiously wrong that someone has to call him or her out on it, and why not the subject of the unfair criticism. But again, I think the key phrase here is that the effect of such complaints is "simply to reveal to an amused audience how deeply the author's feelings have been lacerated by the criticism he himself has so sedulously solicited."

As for it being just a "motherfuckin' tweet," yes, that's what it was. Is there some law that says tweets get a pass because they're tweets? I remember when Sasha Frere-Jones and Jessica Hopper were getting called out years ago for their vile accusations of racism stemming from that Magnetic Fields guy admitting that he liked "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah," or something, and their last line of defense was, "Well, why did you take it so seriously, I only wrote it on a BLOG." Not very compelling. And there's also the fact that a wealthy, famous movie star a) called "dog pile on the rabbit" to his film's fans and b) suggested that the middle-class motion picture critic be divested of his job. Although he later defended himself by saying he was quite sure that Scott's "jaundiced ass" wouldn't be fired on his say so. Well, that makes it all okay.

A filmmaker once approached my editor at Premiere and implied that he would be very happy if I were to be canned for giving his film a negative review. It wasn't a pretty moment. I would never in a million years refer to Jackson as "uppity," but the fact is that his actions were hardly gracious. And you know, as negative reviews go, Scott's was hardly a cut-it-to-ribbons hissy fit. Why is Scott's good opinion apparently so important to Jackson, and why do "Avengers" people seem to be so covetous of unanimity of opinion?

Oliver_C

"I'm sorry, I don't consider the guy who did the 'Spider-Man' comics a serious writer."
-- from 'The Last Days of Disco'

Not David Bordwell

Well, when you put it that way...

Probably my fault for moving from the ridiculous to the sublime, but earlier commenters at MCN adopted more of a "who the hell does he think he is?!" tone than the context you just provided suggests. When I read your post after that, I thought, "holy shit, does he really deserve such heavy intellectual ordinance?"

And to be honest, I have never visited the sites of Harry Knowles and his ilk, nor the shrines to Joss Whedon that I know to exist... the zeal of whose frequenters you clearly regard as a real danger to the integrity of film criticism, and also a not quite negligible threat to the longevity of A. O. Scott's career. So I have to confess naiveté about the actual influence of these barbaric hordes on the praxis of working critics. And, it is good to be reminded of the actual power dynamic between the likes of Samuel L. and what must still be regarded as an ink-stained wretch at the Paper of Record.

I wasn't trying to defend Jackson, although I do wonder if he's as aware as you are of the forces he was inciting and the possible consequences of his rash and ungracious action. Nevertheless, I was disturbed by the implications of "Why, A. O. Scott is a bona-fide intellectual, and Sam Jackson is just a..." (what, exactly?) arguments I was seeing initially.

Anyway, thanks for the direct response. I know this is a hazard of blogging, but I always tell my students they can't assume their reader knows how things they cite connect to the point they are trying to make if it's not explicit on the page. I don't mean that to be as pedantic as it sounds, but ANY context is better than NONE, and I appreciate your providing it when provoked.

Glenn Kenny

Thanks, NDB, and hope I didn't come off TOO snippy. Fact is, posts such as this one, juxtapositions that are simultaneously blatant and oblique/far-fetched, ask for further argument, so it's cool to be having a back-and-forth and working it out, testing the validity of the assertion and the circumstance and such.

That Fuzzy Bastard

"simply to reveal to an amused audience how deeply the author's feelings have been lacerated by the criticism he himself has so sedulously solicited."

Well, but... Why is it a bad thing for an artist to reveal that his feelings are hurt? I mean, not that I think that's what's going on here---this just seemed like one more incident in which a movie star thinks a critics is more powerful than he when anyone with less severe self-esteem problems than your average actor would see that just the opposite is the case. But it seems weird to me, especially in this era of constant realtime self-revelation, to count it as a strike against an artist when they reveal hurt feelings.

Glenn Kenny

I can't speak for Fussell as to whether, or why it's a bad thing for an artist to reveal hurt feelings, but the point is actually the mode of expression, and what is MEANT to be happening (some sort of reckoning or score-settling), and what is ACTUALLY happening (whining). Of course in Jackson's case the potential for score-settling or something resembling it, via manipulation of social media, was a lot greater than it would have been in the period in which Fussell was writing, and the vehicle for complaint was the letters section of the Times' Book Review.

Betttencourt

"why do "Avengers" people seem to be so covetous of unanimity of opinion?"

I remember one critic pointing out years ago (I think it might have been in the LA Weekly) that he seemed to get the most vicious hate mail when he panned the mildest, most only-desire-is-to-please-an-audience films.

Dan Coyle

I liked the movie. Hell, I loved the movie. Doesn't mean A.O. Scott should lose his job for offering his opinion (Though the review reminded me of why I stopped reading A.O. Scott reviews).

That's all I've got to say about that, really.

W.J.

This is probably more a function of my own weariness of "the times" than a reflection of "the times" itself, but the Internet has the power to make otherwise intelligent, self-confident blokes like Samuel L. into brittle, noxious asses. I'm still amazed at how stupid people allow themselves to sound when they have a potentially limitless audience and 140 characters at their disposal.

The truth is everyone has these thoughts because criticism stings, regardless of how committed to beauty or art you think you are. The Internet just makes it a whole lot easier to go off half-cocked.

I wonder if Keats would have seemed so magnanimous had Twitter (and, more importantly, the expectation that all public figures tweet on a regular basis) existed in his day.

Chris L.

What comes through in A.O. Scott's reviews and TV appearances (for me, at least) is a good-humoured, gracious individual who wears his knowledge very lightly. Yes, he took a blowtorch to THOR (and the first paragraph had me in stitches.) But he's not the drippy elitist Enemy that Jackson thinks he's identified.

Absent the oxygen-depleting properties of this kind of movie and its acolytes, I imagine they'd get along fine.

JimVB

"and why do "Avengers" people seem to be so covetous of unanimity of opinion?"

Ooo I can't wait for "The Dark Knight Rises" to open and for the first critic-slam to appear. I'm remembering the Hell Keith Uhlich summoned his way with his take-down of "The Dark Knight" and the fury unleashed at Armond White over at Rotten tomatoes for same. Flame on!

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