Monday, March 8, 2010

So, We're Post-Oscar.

Generally speaking, very, very few surprises last night.

And, no matter how many people get pissed at me (and they have), I still think Bullock winning is ridiculous. Not when Carey Mulligan was just absolutely exquisite in An Education. Yes, I know I haven't seen The Blind Side, and I really don't think I care to. Sorry, folks.

Jeff Bridges taking it home makes up for Matt Damon not getting a deserved nomination for The Informant!

Of course, the big story is the amazing Kathryn Bigelow becoming the first woman to win Best Director. I'm a fan of her work for many years, and what I find most inspiring about this is that she made the best movie of the year (No, The Hurt Locker was not on my 2009 Top Ten. It would've been, had I seen it before I wrote that list. I finally saw it on home video, and I am DYING to see it on the big screen.), and it's, frankly, just a very thoughtful action movie.

It's not a speechifying morass of "good for you" proselytizing about the horrors of war, or the virtue of military service and the American agenda. It's a story of three men in what has to be the most intense and stressful environment imaginable. It's a film of technical achievement that never loses sight of the idea that people are what make stories interesting.

Which is exactly what's she always made.

Her filmography is full of tough but intelligent action pictures. She made Point Break, for God's sake! I first caught wind of her with her absolutely classic vampire western Near Dark, and my personal favorites would be Blue Steel, Strange Days and K-19: The Widowmaker. She's skilled with the camera and with storytelling, and she's paid her dues.

Exactly the sort of director who's earned the right to be recognized.

Notice I said "director," not "female director." See, while I think it is fantastic that a woman has achieved this honor, I think it's much more powerful that a woman flat-out earned it. No one can say Kathryn didn't grasp that little gold man on her own merits, not because the tides of political correctness swept her way.

And how much sweeter the victory is for it.

Bigelow's win doesn't have anything to do with her sex. It has to do with the fact she shot a brilliant fucking film. That she won it for exactly the kind of work she's always done. She didn't have to curry favor with anyone to do it. She never, ever played the sex card. You never heard her talk about it. She talked about her film, her collaborators, her team. She kept her focus on THE WORK, not on the politics of the situation.

You see, I believe, very fiercely, in equality. No one should be held back from anything because of their skin tone, sex, or sexual orientation. I strive to live my life by that ideal. No artist should be dismissed for these factors, but neither should the be elevated, either.

If we all are equal, then are we not to be judged solely on the merits of our work? I see a movie, read a book, watch a TV show, and I like or dislike it, the sex of the creator never crosses my mind. Maybe it does for some people, but this blog is about me. I can't answer for them. I can't, and I won't.

Much like when the uproar happened over Publisher's Weekly's Best Books of 2009 List, I find myself wondering when artistic merit had to pass through some crucible of political correctness. If I, Publisher's Weekly, or the Members of the Academy pick our "best," that's just that, their opinion. All awards, best-of lists, or other rankings function best as a way to encourage discussion.

Taking the Publisher’s Weekly situation, for example…Why should it be expected that women writers MUST be represented? In my mind, only the ten best books (in their opinion) MUST be included. Publisher's Weekly found their top ten books of 2009 included no female writers.

The people who put together the list (including women) liked 10 other books more. Go figure. They say it themselves, "We ignored gender and genre and who had the buzz. We gave fair chance to the “big” books of the year, but made them stand on their own two feet. It disturbed us when we were done that our list was all male." So, they're basically saying they picked the books they liked most, and were surprised as anyone else that all the authors were male.

Yet, this is considered some kind of wrong on women.

This led various feminist organizations to list off the female writers who had published works in 2009, Lorrie Moore, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Mavis Gallant, Rita Dove, Heather McHugh and Alicia Ostriker….

Well, so what?

This is one of those situations where I'm sitting here, a straight, white male, and wondering if I should even say anything. If I should even mention that this smacks of saying that, well, we know you thought this work was better, but you should really honor this work, simply because it was created by a woman. Women In Letters And Literary Arts (WILLA) even created their own top ten list, with no men allowed.

Isn't that exactly what they were accusing Publisher's Weekly of?

We all want a world of equality, but equality, by it's very nature, is not a one-way street. Yes, there are plenty of examples of crimes of omission in the past, but, if you really want a better world, the time has come to look forward. To strive to acknowledge that artistic achievement is a matter of opinion in almost every sense, and that no one deserves special treatment.


  1. 2 problems with the Oscars. Martin and Baldwin... and the inexcusable omission of the late Farrah Fawcett from the memorial list. Yeah, she was primarily TV, but she did make movies- though that hasn't always been the parameter for inclusion- and she was part of the cultural landscape. Pultroons.

  2. Add on; I wonder how much of this blooming interest in Bigelow is due to her fashion modelly looks? Point blank, most men who direct are toads. And no one comments. No one mentions Scorcese's barely controlled unibrow, people stopped mentioning Coppola's weight- one way or the other. And though there is some gentle ribbing from his fanbase, no one critically mentions George Lucas' lack of a chin. But with Bigelow... I notice a certain amount of attention paid to her looks. I find this irritating. She's a terrific director, good with comedy and action beats. I don't give a good goddamn what she looks like... in that sense.

  3. First of all, I'm not pissed off. That's my disclaimer. You're clearly aware of your privilege, and that goes a long way. But here's something else to think about: none of us, straight, white, male, or otherwise, live in a vacuum. Publisher's Weekly editors "ignored gender" and chose the books they liked the best, yes, but out of how many? And what influenced the choice of all the books they read? And what influenced the publishers of said books?

    We live in a sexist society-- that much is clear (like Kendall said, everyone focuses on Bigelow's looks-- one of so many examples). The playing field is not level to begin with, so to say you can "ignore gender" is ignorant at best, and offensive at worst (just ask Chris "I forgot that Obama was black" Matthews). The editors made choices, based in part on their experiences in a sexist, racist culture.

    I'm not saying that Publisher's Weekly should have tweaked their list, to include books by women that they felt were inferior to the books they actually included. But I'd be curious to know what kind of discussion went into the choice, and whether anyone said (and I mean before the backlash started), "Hm, this is disturbing that the list is all men. Why exactly do we think that Stitches by David Small is a better book than Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, which just happened to win the Pulitzer prize?" I think ideally, the result of the "uproar" should have been an increased dialogue about bias in the literary world, rather than the "UR SEXIST!" "NO, TEH BEST BOOKS R BY MEN!" argument. Leading, hopefully, to increased exposure to female writers in the school curriculum, with an eye towards eventually removing that bias altogether, so that maybe one day there will "accidentally" be a list of ten books, all by either women or people of color, and no one will cry foul because they just happen to be the best books published that year.

    And as a side note: creating a top-ten list of books by female authors is NOT the same thing as omitting female authors on a top-ten list of books by ALL authors. The whole "reverse-sexist" thing irks me to no end, just like "reverse racism." Without a culturally perpetuated system of privilege and oppression, those terms lose their understood meaning. Srsly. BET is not racist, WILLA is not sexist. Teh end.