Sunday, March 12, 2006

Gee Annie, Cruel

I haven’t read E. Anne Proulx but for a single short story. I haven’t seen Brokeback Mountain. It therefore remains possible, to my mind, that the author is as eloquent as her reputation suggests and that the film is a veritable gay cowboy Godfather; making her remarkably sophomoric rant in The Guardian only righteous indignation and excusing the bilious pettiness of it all. She begins:

The people connected with Brokeback Mountain, including me, hoped that, having been nominated for eight Academy awards, it would get Best Picture as it had at the funny, lively Independent Spirit awards the day before. (If you are looking for smart judging based on merit, skip the Academy Awards next year and pay attention to the Independent Spirit choices.) We should have known conservative heffalump academy voters would have rather different ideas of what was stirring contemporary culture.

I found myself mouthing the word soundlessly to an imaginary companion: heffalump? Looking it up I discovered it is a character from Winnie the Pooh, a figment of his paranoid imagination that he is forever trying to capture, never successfully, in order to protect his honey stores. The term is sometimes used to convey a creature of the imagination. Your guess is as good as mine, as to how this applies to academy voters. It must be very apt, she uses it twice. Proulx continues:

Roughly 6,000 film industry voters, most in the Los Angeles area, many living cloistered lives behind wrought-iron gates or in deluxe rest-homes, out of touch not only with the shifting larger culture and the yeasty ferment that is America these days, but also out of touch with their own segregated city, decide which films are good. And rumor has it that Lions Gate inundated the academy voters with DVD copies of Trash - excuse me - Crash a few weeks before the ballot deadline. Next year we can look to the awards for controversial themes on the punishment of adulterers with a branding iron in the shape of the letter A, runaway slaves, and the debate over free silver.

I was suddenly sympathetic to Hollywood’s elite, hammered from one side for being too liberal, pressed against an anvil on the other for not being liberal enough. And here I thought cinema was diluted by its overreaching, leftist activist conscience. No, it seems there’s no gay element in Hollywood whatsoever; in fact, all the homosexuals are out riding the range, muttering sweet nothings in one another’s ears with husky John Wayne baritones. Those flamboyant creative types all over the film industry? Secret NASCAR fans and strip club whoremongers, no doubt.
The author is shocked, shocked that studios engage in lobbying. How dare they throw themselves before our media stampede? Having just proclaimed the issue of race and segregation passé before the exigency of seventies era closeted cowboys, she still sees fit to chide the stuffy academy for its gated segregation, and sees no bigotry in declaring them a bunch of old farts. Age? Everyone gets old. Where’s the cache in that? So fire away, and heads up you wrinkly old coots.

But oh, that "yeasty ferment." As I reflect that this is a wealthy and respected author and I have to get up in the morning to go to a regular job, I'm relieved there are no guns or sturdy rope in the house.

Proulx can’t distance herself enough from the proceedings she’s so upset about attending and being forced to attach so much importance to:

From the first there was an atmosphere of insufferable self-importance emanating from "the show" which, as the audience was reminded several times, was televised and being watched by billions of people all over the world

No self-importance from her quarter. But of course, cliché isn’t out of bounds either:

There were montages, artfully meshed clips of films of yesteryear, live acts by Famous Talent, smart-ass jokes by Jon Stewart who was witty and quick, too witty, too quick, too eastern perhaps for the somewhat dim LA crowd.

Because we all know that the people who make movies must be a bunch of idiots. Not as if there’s any draw to the immense wealth and fame of Hollywood that might attract intelligence and talent.
The problem Stewart had, just as Chris Rock and David Letterman before him, is that he is too irreverent for the event. These are a group of people, both important and self-important, who have the nerve to put on a show celebrating themselves; an event that also happens to have immense financial repercussions for many of them. They aren’t in the mood. Their best hosts are not the best, and definitely not the more controversial, stand-up comedians; best suited to the task are insiders: Billy Crystal, raised in and on show business, or Johnny Carson, who made a career out of making movie stars appear witty.

Perhaps it’s easy to see the reality of it from this remove, and Ms. Proulx can’t discern the hype for her own understandable vanity; but from here it appears that her little film got an incredible boost from a very sympathetic Hollywood, the critics, and the media at large. Combine the political impulse and in such cases a critical mass is reached, with everyone seeking to hitch a ride on the momentum; indeed, it becomes perilous to stand in the way as a voice of dissent. The cacophony of voices declares the very praise itself virtuous. Before long it's a competition to see who can distinguish themselves with the most effusive praise; proving that they understand more completely the revelation, and feel more deeply its import. Like an audience of Soviet functionaries applauding one of Stalin's speeches, no one dares stop first.

When commerce or some other force intrudes and breaks the reverie,the celebrants, having worked themselves up for a grand climactic rapture, feel a profound sense of betrayal. How dare they insult our worship?
And it has become a type of worship, transitory as it may be. Hype has become truth. For some, politics has become a way of brandishing one's moral purity. Defying the emotional, unifying piety of those in the thrall of this combination produces some very odd behavior.

But it's never a bad thing when self righteousness on such a grand scale is humbled. Maybe I'll even get around to renting Crash before it makes it to television, in appreciation.


ziel said...

After Sailer's link, let me be the first to congratulate you on a brilliant post. Times Select must be a blessing for you - I don't know how you'd be able to get up in the morning having to read those op-eders every day.

Glaivester said...

A heffalump is an elephant, if you look at either the original illustrations or the disney addaptations. Like Tigger, "heffalump" and "woozle" (weasel) were the result of Christopher Robin's childish mispronunciation of big or unfamiliar words.

Dennis Dale said...

Thanks G.
I knew it was from Winnie the Pooh, but I couldn't remember what it was. The Wikipedia entry could use your editing. I still can't believe she would use such a ham-handed epithet.
Thanks Ziel.
You know I've been thinking about subscribing to the Sunday Times. I miss the whole Sunday morning routine; peeling open a crisp, ink scented newspaper. It just isn't the same staring at a computer screen. I wouldn't mind keeping tabs on Krugman, and Dowd would still be easy enough to ignore.

C. Van Carter said...

Didn't Piglet once say "I wish I could quit Pooh?"