Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Snark

In 2013, the Nerdist website introduced James Bonding, a series of extensive podcast discussions on the long-running James Bond film franchise.  I made it a third of the way through an incredibly snarky discussion of Thunderball (1965) before I endured as much stupidity as I could take and refused to listen any further.  You would never know that Thunderball was a beloved classic from listening to this spiteful dissection of the film by hosts Scott Mosier, Matt Mira and Matt Gourley.  This podcast series is no doubt aimed at millennials, who insist on mocking or protesting any book or film that wasn't produced by their own wonderfully enlightened generation.  Oddly, though, Mira is the only true millennial of the group.  Mosier and Gourley, though they have the cranky and arrogant attitude right, were born nearly a decade too early to be part of this group.  They fall into the category of millennial wannabes or millennial pretenders.

Not surprisingly, the trio made it clear within the first few minutes of their discussion that they embrace politically correct views.  They expressed distress that a shark was harpooned during an underwear action sequence and thought that this might be a reason to dismiss the film altogether.  They were also upset that James Bond killed a SPECTRE assassin who had disguised himself as a woman.  It didn't matter that the assassin was wearing a dress simply to hide his identity.  The sight of Bond beating and ultimately strangling a man dressed as a woman did not meet their LGBT-friendly standards and it proved far too disturbing for their delicate sensibilities.


The fact that Bond snidely throws flowers on the corpse was, from their  perspective, a reference to the assassin's effeminate attire and proof to them of the super spy's terrible disdain for cross-dressers.


The trio admitted during their analysis of the scene that they had no idea what was going on.  They blamed their confusion on the filmmakers.  One of them said, "There's no information coming from that [scene]."  But the real problem was that they hadn't listened to expository dialogue in the previous scene.  It's difficult to pay attention to a film when you are too busy thinking of ways to attack or make fun of it.

The final aspect of this discussion that irritated me was the group's dissatisfaction with the film's special effects.  Our cranky critics singled out a scene in which Bond escapes from the assassin's accomplices by strapping on a jet pack and flying out of bullet range.  Their main complaint was that Bond flies "ten feet."  They hardly thought that the short flight made it worth Bond strapping on the jet pack.  Bond actually flies a lot farther than ten feet, but the scene was simply not spectacular enough for them.  They wanted to see Bond fly across London to M's office.  They thought that it would have been cool to see him fly past Buckingham Palace.  In other words, they wanted to see bigger-than-life CGI effects.  If you can't enjoy a film without CGI effects, then you need to stick with films from the last fifteen years.  Films that predate 2000 are just not for you.  I, myself, find the jet pack scene to be charming and amusing.  

Imagine walking around the Louvre and a couple of jerks behind you are constantly mocking the artwork.  One of them reaches up to tweak a breast on the Venus de Milo.  The two of them snigger every few moments.  It would get annoying, right?   I feel that way about the snarky young film critics that are multiplying frantically throughout the blogosphere.  They love to attack highly regarded old films. 

I found a review of a DVD set, The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection, written for the Washington Post by Philip Kennicott.  I had no reason to think the article was anything other than a straightforward review.  The article was titled, simply, "What Makes Comedy Tick?"  I am always interested in an intelligent, in-depth analysis of silent film comedy.  I especially love Harold Lloyd films.  So, I had every reason to think I would enjoy reading the article.  But then I read this:
"The films of Lloyd are very much steeped in both the charm and ugliness of their era. . . Scan his movies intently for a sign of the Other, people of different races, outsiders, and you realize that these films epitomize the last, regnant, unalloyed era of Whiteness.  . . Unlike Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin, the Lloyd character - a young man with a blazingly pale face, set off by a shock of dark hair and often a dark suit - is utterly at home in his world.  He may be insecure, or poor, or reduced by love to ridiculousness, but he inhabits his world as if he owns it. . . He is the essence of pluck, the virtue that privileged men always recommend to the less fortunate, unaware that pluck and opportunity don't go hand in hand.  Pluck works for the right people, the ones for whom the rules have been written to ensure a happy ending."
Wow, could this man be more bitter?  Lloyd made some of the sweetest and most charming films of the 1920s.  How could Kennicott attack those films in this way?  Kennicott won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.  Is this the type of foul and twisted commentary that we get from a Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic?


I have always identified with Lloyd's underdog characters and found their success inspiring.  I write in my new book, I Won't Grow Up!, about the helpful lessons that Lloyd's films teach about a young man assuming responsibility and becoming a true adult.   These film fables are valuable as both art and history.  They have a place among America's antiquities of the Twentieth Century.  If a film is a Rorschach test, I could use Kennicott's review to identify a serious thought disorder on the author's part.  Does this white man loathe himself for his own success?  Does he believe that, as a white man, he did not earn his success?  Should every successful white man who reads this loathe himself?  Or does Kennicott, in a way other than race, represent the "outsider" in Lloyd's world.  Only self-loathing or outsider status could explain the reason that Kennicott hates everything that Lloyd represents. 

This is equivalent to a jerk in the Lourve gathering up a wad of phlegm in his mouth and spitting it into the Mona Lisa's smiling face.  The Mona Lisa has nothing to prove.  It long ago established itself as a masterwork.  Even more important, it carries the weight of history.  The painting has been on display in a number of palaces for the last six hundred years.  It once hung in the bedroom of Napoleon.  Similarly lofty credentials apply to Lloyd's best films, including Safety Last! and The Kid BrotherSafety Last! is not the latest episode of New Girl, which a bunch of Internet commentators can thoughtlessly hash over.

A woman once tried to spray the Mona Lisa with red paint because she was upset that the museum did not do more to accommodate disabled people.  A Russian woman who was upset with France's immigration policies threw a souvenir terra cotta mug at the painting.  Kennicott is having a very similar tantrum in his critique of the great comedian's work.  No respect should be paid to idiotic political activists who recklessly and furiously tear down classic art.

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