I agree with Dylan that it’s exceedingly stupid to defend the novel by bashing people who enjoyed or helped develop other technologies and modes of entertainment. In fact, I think defending the novel as somehow necessary is a sort of foolish project. Novels aren’t necessary, but neither are television shows about suburban mobsters, or movies about John Smith dipped in ink, stretched on a rack, and sent to space. I don’t think novels are necessary. I think they’re extremely enjoyable. I like disappearing into an antisocial fugue state sometimes, particularly the one that leads me to sneak books under desks and to walk down streets with my nose amidst a lot of paper. As a writer, and as someone who largely thinks in text instead of in pictures, I enjoy seeing what other authors are doing with the same weapons available to me, and seeing the world in a new way, because someone else has identified a new color in a sunset, or juxtaposed a situation with a new adjective, forcing me to work a little harder, to see a little more clearly. I like writing in margins, folding down pages, and waking up at three in the morning wondering where a particular volume is on my spectacularly disorderly shelves. Reading’s the only thing I do where I can’t actively do something else–I can’t email, I can’t watch television, I can listen to music but lately I’ve been finding it much harder to listen to music with words when I need to read quickly. I don’t need novels to live, but my life would be poorer without them.
GayAsXMas says the best movie about love in the aughts is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I can’t really argue with his synthesis of the role technology and impermanence play in the way we love now:
Those moments of intimacy make up much of the core emotional framework of each person. Remove the memory of it, and you remove a vital part of yourself. The film brilliantly shows the narrowing of Joel’s experiences as one by one his treasured memories are stolen along with the painful ones. He begins to realise that the ying and yang of his experience with Clementine, the challenge she represents to him is part of what makes being with her so rewarding. By acknowledging the complexity of his feelings for her, he also realises their depth and ultimately rebels against losing that part of himself.
In a similar, real-world way, the people on social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace, who are only too quick to delete friends and scrub references to past relationships are playing out a version of Joel’s experience. Like hyperlinked readers flipping through websites, we can often find ourselves flipping through relationships, obsessed with the idea that our perfect mate is another click away. By both largely anticipating this trend and then literalising it in his screenplay, Kaufmann proves his prescience and his humanity.
But I’d nominate as an alternative 2005′s Shopgirl, based on the novel by Steve Martin of the same name, and starring him as an older businessman who dates a depressed young artist (Claire Danes) hoping to avoid attachment, and Jason Schwarzman as a slacker who, in one of the most refreshing twists on the slacker-romances-hottie dynamic of the decade, woos the artist with purer intentions, but has to become an actual, legitimate grown-up person (not a fake grown-up like in Judd Apatow’s movies) in order to be worthy of her. It’s a lovely, quiet movie, a reminder of how fantastic Steve Martin is when he’s not trying to be funny. Long before (500) Days of Summer, the movie had an intelligent view of Los Angeles as an actual city. And while the movie isn’t about how technology’s created for us, it is about how difficult it can be to be an adult, no matter your age. Whether you’re working a job that supports your creative pursuits, barely working because you’re uninterested, or wealthy, established, and divorced, it is equally possible to find yourself utterly marooned–and to deeply wound the person who moors you to a larger reality. I tend to think that’s become increasingly true as the gaps between rich and poor become larger, as economic opportunities and the promise of fulfilling careers shrink for people of a certain age, as expectations for success, romantic attachment, and deportment depending on gender shift underneath us. Maybe these dilemmas are true in any age, but the scope of Los Angeles, the fixation on luxury, the impact of student loans, and the role of technology as an industry in making some people quite wealthy all feel strikingly contemporary.
The movie also has a script that isn’t afraid to be…well, twee or mannered isn’t the right term, but precise, and sentimental in a way that is also true. The voiceover narrative, spoken by Martin and largely drawn verbatim from his novel, transforms the movie into a fairy tale you can believe in, one that draws much more useful lessons than any Disney movie. The acting’s also extremely good, partially because it doesn’t happen at a very high pitch. Martin isn’t trying to be wildly funny, Schwartzman’s not falling all over himself to be eccentric, and Claire Danes, one of the last genuinely restrained actresses of her generation, misinterprets, withholds, demurs, and gives in beautifully. It’s a love story that’s really, fundamentally about growth, something Eternal Sunshine is as well, I think, and as such, it demands we be grown-ups to appreciate it.
Or you could just read the novella, which I highly recommend. I don’t know a better, sadder, or more promising description of young adult life than this, which is also (in slightly edited form) the voiceover that begins the movie:
She moved from Vermont hoping to begin her life, and now she is stranded in the vast openness of L.A. She keeps working to make connections, but the pile of near misses is starting to overwhelm her. What Mirabelle needs is some omniscient voice to illuminate her and spotlight her, and to inform everyone that this one has value, this one over here, the one sitting in the bar by herself, and then to find her counterpart and bring him to her.
But that night, the voice does not come, and she quietly folds herself up and leaves the bar.
The voice is to come on Tuesday.
Don’t we all wish.
If we’re going to make a romantic comedy whose message can be “black people have biases too,” couldn’t we at least make it in the direction of Something New:
I don’t at all object to folks making movies about racial bias, particularly when it comes to love, across the spectrum of color, and I don’t at all object to those movies being funny. I’d really like to see a good one about African-Americans and Jews. But there are a couple of reasons the trailer for Our Family Wedding makes me ill, and that I really liked Something New.
1. The whole “saintly kids, biased parents thing” was smart in Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner. It’s tired now. It’s not that I don’t think generational differences exist around interracial dating, but Dr. and Mrs. John Wade Prentice’s beautiful interracial children are all grown up and having romantic difficulties of their own now. Times have changed. Having someone’s Mexican grandma faint when her daughter brings home a black man wouldn’t have been subtle in 1967, and it’s not subtle now. It’s much more interesting to me to see main characters dealing with race in their own love lives–and frankly, more honest–than to pretend everybody is colorblind these days and it’s just the Olds who object. In Something New, the main character certainly is pressured by everyone from her parents to her friends to date a black man instead of a white one, but her reaction is much more complicated than simply throwing off their objections. She has issues of her own. She’s not a saint. And therefore, she is interesting.
2. The humor has to be good. There are “the goat is eating my Viagra” jokes. Then there’s Donald Faison, after being told by Sanaa Lathan that she should be polite to her white landscaper, declaring “It’s the help.” The former requires a substantial setup, and a kind of depressing payoff, in the form of said goat humping Forest Whitaker. The second is three words, the joke’s all in the inflection, and it’s a pretty cutting commentary on class attitudes as well.
3. If Our Family Wedding is going to confine the class politics to the fact that Carlos Mencia runs a towing company and Whitaker owns a nice car, I will be deeply depressed. I think that the best movies about bias frequently acknowledge that in any situation where there are biases, there are multiple power imbalances in play. In Something New, it’s not just that Lathan’s dating a white guy, she’s dating a white, blue-collar guy. Class prejudice gets wrapped up as something defensible, and something to fall back on instead of racism: where you went to college or what you make treated like a reasonable standard of compatibility, something to use as an excuse not to see someone whose race or faith you’re not comfortable with instead.
In other words, like all movies, flicks about interracial love affairs should be good, rather than bad. It’s just that the misses here can be so painful, and so glaring.
I love this new video by Jay-Z, for “On To the Next One,” even if I’m not insanely enamored of the song:
It grieves me, however, to say that I think this video by Big Boi for “Shine Blockas,” his hit with Gucci Mane, is pretty dull and disappointing:
I know I ought to like Jay-Z more. I recognize that he’s a significant leader in the medium and in the industry. But given that taste comes down to personal preferences, Jay only sometimes gets into a zone where his flow is as smooth and as fast as I prefer, usually, I think, when he’s rapping about New York. I full acknowledge though that he’s a fantastic barometer of the up-and-coming and an exemplar when it comes to perfectionism and high production values. I’m a big fan of OutKast videos, though, and it actively bothers me that Big Boi turned in something that feels, well, mailed in to me for a single of his that’s getting a lot of attention. A persistent theme in commentary about the future, or lack thereof, for OutKast has been the idea that Big Boi is interested in preserving the duo while Andre is constantly distracted by the search for something new. That may be accurate, or it may be exceedingly cheap psychology. But it’s too bad that this video looks like a nostalgia trip rather than an effort to do something that’s forward-looking.
I mean, seriously. WHY?
That the secret to Nic Cage’s success was having the most malleable face in the business? I maintain that this picture would have been better, though, if Cage had also been Forman and Wilson, not just House.