The NYT, Clint, Canterbury trendies, Dame Edna, and Jane
Frank Rich got himself tied in knots over a Baby:
Rush Limbaugh used his radio megaphone to inveigh against the “liberal propaganda” of “Million Dollar Baby,” in which Mr. Eastwood plays a crusty old fight trainer who takes on a fledgling “girl” boxer (Hilary Swank) desperate to be a champ. Mr. Limbaugh charged that the film was a subversively encoded endorsement of euthanasia, and the usual gang of ayotallahs chimed in. Michael Medved, the conservative radio host, has said that “hate is not too strong a word” to characterize his opinion of “Million Dollar Baby.” Rabbi Daniel Lapin, a longtime ally of the Christian right, went on MSNBC to accuse Mr. Eastwood of a cultural crime comparable to Bill Clinton having “brought the term ‘oral sex’ to America’s dinner tables.”
If there’s a running theme in Clint Eastwood’s movies, I would say it would be that “actions have consequences”, a concept that Rich might consider right-wing. Aside from that, Clint has made movies I really enjoyed, and movies that I hated, almost to the point, as Mr. Medved put it, where “hate is not too strong a word”. However, Million Dollar Baby’s million-dollar publicity (at least in this part of the country) has focused almost entirely on its being a boxing story — with Hilary Swank’s shoulder muscles bulging out of her sports bra — instead of allowing for the possibility of a different theme. Perhaps that might explain why some people are upset: they went in looking for Rocky and instead got The Sea Inside. That could be a bummer.
It probably doesn’t help to have the on-line version of the article sponsored by Teen Suicide Prevention, Suicide Thoughts?, and Suicide Information.
Rich mentions Michael Medved. Medved, who seems a likeable enough guy, got a good review in the NYT Books review for his book Right Turns,
Even many of his readers who hold to very different political and social views will concede, grudgingly, the quality of Medved’s intellect. But in a time when we prefer to draw our ideological foes in caricature, they will have a harder time acknowledging the qualities of heart and conscience that, for him, matter far more.
Maybe Rich would do well to read Medved’s book and learn about “respectful pluralism”.
Also in the book review, a lengthy essay on that famous real-life dysfunctional couple of the Middle Ages (not the only famous real-life dysfunctional couple — Henry and Eleanor come to mind), Abelard and Heloise. For those who’ve missed out on A&H’s doings, the article starts with a brief summary,
Almost a thousand years ago, a teacher fell in love with his student. Almost a thousand years ago, they began a torrid affair. They made love in the kitchens of convents and in the boudoir of the girl’s uncle. They wrote hundreds of love letters. When the girl bore a child, they were secretly married, but the teacher was castrated by henchmen of the enraged uncle. At her lover’s bidding, the girl took religious orders. He took the habit of a monk. They retreated into separate monasteries and wrote to each other until parted by death.
Nearly parted, I should say, since they are buried together in a beautiful grave at the Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Legend has it that “when Heloise was buried in 1164, 22 years after Abelard, he reached out from the grave to embrace her”. When I first heard that, I didn’t think it was a good thing — after all, “until death do you part” might open possibilities — but that’s just me.
The NYT Sunday Magazine has Dame Edna on the cover, but imagine my disappointment when the article (written by Melanie Thernstrom) was about matchmakers, not about the Dame. Dame Edna looks a lot like my parents’ next-door neighbor in Puerto Rico. The neighbor was an actual woman, not a man dressed as a woman and didn’t wear rhinestones, but aside from that, they share a shocking resemblance. This resemblance makes the Dame funnier, an opinion The Husband and other family members don’t quite share since they never met my former neighbor. (Both the neighbor and my parents moved in the 1990s, in case you wanted to know.) But I digress.
Back to the theme of the Middle Ages, the Beeb recently had four episodes of their idea of The Canterbury Tales. In my modern eyes, Chaucer had an arguably nearly-democratic theme (if you could allow me such an anachronism) in having people from all walks of life sharing together their lives’ stories under the same roof, in a common goal — that of a pilgrimage. Democratic instincts aside, this setting points to man’s common experience of existence. To me, this is a most important part of the Tales. The Beeb totally left that out, and their Tales aren’t even loosely connected. The Beeb’s Tales were also woefully lacking in appeal. The Wife of Bath, who in Chaucer’s version is a powerful rich woman who fell in love with the wrong (and much younger than her) guy, ends up a pathetic plastic-surgery mask of a woman keeping toy boys. By the end of the episode she would have felt right at home with the AbFab fashionistas. The Knight’s Tale was depressing and totally lacking in a Knight’s ethic. The Beeb’s Sea Captain’s Tale and Miller’s Tale were totally unrecognizable, each sharing with the original Tale only its title and a few sparse details. The Miller, for instance, should have been titled the Karaoke Bar Owner but the TV episode did get the mooning scene. In all, this was no TV Forsyte Saga (neither the old nor the new version). The 2001 movie A Knight’s Tale (which begins with the medieval attendees at a jousting match singing Queen’s “We Will Rock You”) was a great deal more accurate in conveying a Medieval ethic than any of the Beeb’s trendies.
Possibly, a common thread to Million Dollar Baby, Medved’s book, Abelard and Heloise’s story, and the Canterbury Tales is that a moralizing theme runs through their stories.
Conveying a moralizing theme to a contemporary audience is very tricky, as James Bowman explains in his article The Inexhaustible Adaptability of Jane Austen. I want to see the updocoming Bride and Prejudice (a title pun that brings to mind Shaun of the Dead). I loved A&E’s Pride and Prejudice, and Bridget Jones, and not only because of Colin Firth, but James Bowman’s (and my own) favorite Austen film adaptation is Sense and Sensibility:
Above all, the movie shows an almost Janean sense of decorum. Like the morality which it champions, such filmmaking puts the highest value on passion as contained by reticence and restraint, and so it brings us as close as we are ever likely to get to experiencing in the movies what Jane Austen intended us to experience in her novels.
It also suggests that behind the spate of Austenian adaptations there may lie a certain nostalgia for a time in which the jungle of feelings and expectations that marriage has become for us was contained within social and customary boundaries.
A jungle of feelings and expectations it is. As Melanie Thernstrom explains,
I believed that I would spend my life with my ex-fiance. But we didn’t marry, and although that is poignant and complicated, my ex-fiance and I still value our engagement because it was a beautiful thing at the time, and now we are friends.
This, at any rate, is the way I understand my life. But this is not the way Samantha understands life, and in part, you are hiring her for her understanding — for suspending your own worldview and adopting hers. And in her view, a broken engagement is like skidding off the road when you were en route to the only place that matters: marriage. I can see from her face (and the horror with which she asks, How close was it to the wedding?) that for her the idea of valuing a trip that ended before the altar is as bizarre as sentimentalizing a bloody car wreck.
It seems to me that Jane’s work would speak to the NYT Sunday Mag matchmakers’ clients. May I recommend Pride and Prejudice for starters?
As you may or may not already be aware, members of the Watcher’s Council hold a vote every week on what they consider to be the most link-worthy pieces of writing around… per the Watcher’s instructions, I am submitting one of my own posts for consideration in the upcoming nominations process.
Here is the most recent winning council post, here is the most recent winning non-council post, here is the list of results for the latest vote, and here is the initial posting of all the nominees that were voted on.