Category Archives: journalism

Giving feminism a bad name, Chapter [insert astronomical number here]

So this morning, this showed up in my Twitter feed:

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Out of morbid curiosity, I followed the link and found this article in the Jewish online magazine, The Tablet, which skewers “male critics” for giving lukewarm reviews to the new Disney feature, Frozen, and missing its feminist message.

To start with: I haven’t seen Frozen yet.  I’m really disappointed that Disney made a film very loosely based on Andersen’s wonderful story The Snow Queen, rather than an actual adaptation of the story (which has a courageous, active female protagonist, an awesome and terrifying female villain, and other great characters including a lady bandit chief and her bratty but good-hearted daughter).  One friend of mine thought it was great.  Another, a feminist who has a strong interest in female-driven stories, thought it was so-so.

If Frozen is getting mediocre press, that’s news to me: the film has a very impressive 89% “fresh” rating on RottenTomatoes.com (though some of the reviews counted as “good” are not quite as enthusiastic as Tablet author Marjorie Ingall, the magazine’s Life and Religion columnist, would prefer).  Plenty of male critics loved it: Time‘s Richard Corliss, for instance, or The Wall Street Journal‘s Joe Morgenstern (who concludes his review by calling one of the sisters, Elsa, “a heroine for our times”). And some female critics, such as Christy Lemire of RogerEbert.com, were every bit as lukewarm as the male critics Ingall castigates.  The Village Voice‘s Sherrilyn Connelly thought that in terms of its portrayal of female characters, Frozen is a step back from Brave; Ingall emphatically disagrees, which is fine.

What’s not fine is that (1) under the guise of feminism, Ingall has penned a disgustingly sexist and crass attack on male critics, a respectable online magazine published it, and some people are apparently loving it; and (2) Ingall seriously misrepresents both the overall tenor of the reviews and some of the actual critics she slams.

After cherry-picking a few “meh” reviews, Ingall writes:

All these critics are boys. This movie is an extraordinary, subversive story about sisterhood, and it is funny and surprising and weird, and they do not get it because they are writing with their penises.

Really, Ingall?  Really, Tablet?  “Boys”? “Writing with their penises”?  Good grief.  Imagine the reaction if a male writer derided “girl” critics who were insufficiently enthusiastic about some male-oriented movie and opined that “they do not get it because they are writing with their ovaries.”  (Yeah, okay, Rush Limbaugh says this kind of crap, which he rightly gets slammed for.  But I can’t imagine, say, Commentary or National Review Online publishing anything of the sort.)

Speaking of “not getting it,” I think Ingall actually misunderstood the meaning of a line that particularly incensed her in Stephen Holden’s New York Times review.  Holden wrote:

“Frozen,” for all its innovations, is not fundamentally revolutionary. Its animated characters are the same familiar, blank-faced, big-eyed storybook figures. But they are a little more psychologically complex than their Disney forerunners. Its princesses may gaze at a glass ceiling, but most are not ready to shatter it.

Ingall fumes:

Wait, what? It’s true, animated movies fall down spectacularly when it comes to body-image diversity. This is no exception. (My daughter Josie observed that the princesses’ eyes are wider than their arms, and I know of someone who dismissed the film as “Battle of the Snow Barbies.”) But how are they not shattering a glass ceiling? It’s a cartoon in which both of the leads are female, the love story is secondary to the tale of the sisters’ relationship, and oh yeah, audiences are flocking to see it in record numbers despite the tepid reviews.

Actually, I believe Holden is contrasting the film’s princesses, Elsa and Anna, to “their Disney forerunners.”  The last line in the paragraph Ingall quotes is rather clunkily written and confusing, but it sure looks to me like “Its princesses” refers to “Disney’s princesses,” not Elsa and Anna (“most” of two makes no sense).  I think Holden is saying that Frozen‘s princesses do shatter the “glass ceiling,” an interpretation supported by the fact that his next paragraph notes that this is the first Disney animated feature with a female director.

But back to Ingall for this snarky aside:

(I did laugh at the conservative New York Post’s response: “[Disney] too often panics at feminist pressure and orders up formulaically ‘strong, capable, smart’ girls.” Heaven forfend! Love those quote marks. Who’s really panicking here, monkeyboy?)

What Ingall doesn’t say is that the New York Post review by Kyle Smith is actually highly positive (he gives the movie 3.5 stars out of 4, compared to 3 out of 5 from gender traitor Elizabeth Weitzmann in the rival, and liberal, tabloid The Daily News).  Also, Smith is — in this case, unmistakably — contrasting Frozen‘s Elsa, whom he calls “intriguingly nuanced” and “cool,” to the “formulaically ‘strong, capable, smart'” girls from other Disney films.

Oh, and just to remind you: Frozen did not get “tepid reviews.”

To recap:

This is a year in which female-driven movies (Catching Fire, Frozen, Gravity) have done amazingly well with audiences and with critics.

And out of this, a feminist writer manages to get a male-bashing whinefest about slights to women and girls (or to feminism) at the hands of beastly men.

Imaginary slights, I should add.

And then feminists complain that feminism gets a bad press.

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Filed under feminism, gender issues, journalism

In which yours truly saves the newspapers

Can Newspapers Survive? is the topic of my latest RealClearPolitics.com column, which, among other things, tackles the $64,000 question: how do you get people to pay for stuff they read online?   I have an answer.  Maybe.

Walter Isaacson, former managing editor of Time, recently got into the fray with a proposal to make web media content available for micropayments similar to iTunes… If you see a link to an interesting article on, say, The San Jose Mercury News website, you don’t have to buy a $20 subscription to the publication – you can pay a nickel or a dime to read the individual item.

While this is a promising idea, it has substantial drawbacks. Those nickels and dimes can add up, and if your monthly bill is high enough, you may think twice the next time you feel like clicking on a link.

A better approach may be to make news and analysis content available only through media portals or carriers, similar to cable television providers. A subscription to a carrier would give access to any news site (newspaper, magazine, blog) that is a part of its package.

Read the rest.  Add your thoughts, praise my acumen, or tell me why I’m so wrong it’s not even funny.

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Filed under journalism, media

More Beauchamp

According to Michael Goldfarb at The Weekly Standard, Beauchamp has recanted.

THE WEEKLY STANDARD has learned from a military source close to the investigation that Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp–author of the much-disputed “Shock Troops” article in the New Republic’s July 23 issue as well as two previous “Baghdad Diarist” columns–signed a sworn statement admitting that all three articles he published in the New Republic were exaggerations and falsehoods–fabrications containing only “a smidgen of truth,” in the words of our source.

Goldfarb also quotes this statement from Major Steven F. Lamb, the deputy Public Affairs Officer for Multi National Division-Baghdad:

An investigation has been completed and the allegations made by PVT Beauchamp were found to be false. His platoon and company were interviewed and no one could substantiate the claims.

Could the Army investigation be a means of sweeping embarrassing facts under the rug? Sure. Could the military pressure a private into recanting a true story? Sure — though Beuchamp, at present, has enough visibility to be more protected from retaliation than the typical soldier. Be as it may, if the story recantation story pans out, it will no doubt breathe a new life into the story.

Meanwhile, Jeff Goldstein responds to my earlier post on the topic, and specifically to this part:

[W]hile I think the story of the boy who had his tongue cut out raises further doubts about Beauchamp’s credibility, it also points to the aburdity of claims that TNR editors were eager to publish Beauchamp because his writings put U.S. troops in Iraq in a bad light. (Unless, of course, one wants to claim that TNR and Beauchamp cleverly conspired to ensure that his first diarist piece focused on atrocity by the insurgents in order to avert suspicion of anti-Americanism — which is probably not too paranoid for a few websites.)

Asks Jeff:

Consider: is it really “paranoid” to suggest that a writer working to establish credibility would be careful to describe the barbarism of “both sides” (and aren’t we always told that what separates “us” from “them” is that we do not behave like them, making the subsequent barbarism of the American troops reported in Beauchamp’s follow-up pieces all the more pointedly ironic)?

In fact, isn’t it that juxtaposition itself that gives the pieces their pointedness and, to some, their poignancy?

The idea that war turns us into what we are fighting is the “literary” conceit being serviced by Beauchamp’s collection of essays — and in the aggregate, his pieces are, in my reading, intended to supply this practiced layer to the anti-war narrative embraced both by Foer and (if we can believe his other writings, or view his political affiliations as “significant” with respect to his literary output) Beauchamp.

Sorry — I find it hard to believe that Beauchamp sought “juxtaposition” between an essay published in February and an essay published in July. People weren’t reading his essays in a collection of books, they were reading them in a weekly magazine, and except for a handful who were paying special attention to the “Baghdad Diarist,” I doubt that most even remembered that the “Shock Troops” article was written by the same guy who wrote about the insurgents cutting out a kid’s tongue. If Beauchamp wanted “juxtaposition” between the atrocities of the insurgents and the dehumanization of U.S. soldiers to the point of becoming “just like the enemy,” surely he would have made it in one article, not two different essays separated by months. Besides, especially compared to an atrocity like cutting off a child’s tongue, the behavior Beauchamp imputes to U.S. soldiers hardly qualifies as “barbaric.”

Meanwhile, in the comments, “Jeffersonian,” who says he is a longtime fan of mine and defends me against some of the more spirited comments from his fellow posters, accuses me of being “disingenuous” in this case:

TNR obviously knew what Beauchamp was going to write before he did, given the nature of his oeuvre. Of the tens of thousands of soldiers in Iraq, they just happened across this guy? … TNR picked STB for a reason, and it wasn’t because of his purple prose.

I appreciate the fan support, of course; but does “Jeffersonian” really believe that when TNR picked up Beauchamp’s first Diarist piece about the Iraqi boy mutilated by insurgents for talking to Americans, Franklin Foer knew in advance that Beauchamp would follow up with a piece chronicling bad behavior by American soldiers and that’s the only reason he decided to publish Beauchamp? Sorry, but that is paranoid, and it’s also the kind of demonization of “the other side” that I find so frustrating in political discourse.

As I recall, Beauchamp was recommended to TNR by his fiancee Elspeth Reeve, a staffer at the magazine. It’s not as if the magazine went looking for a soldier to write “Diarist” pieces. I do think that, to a large extent, Beauchamp was given a platform because he was someone the TNR editors saw as “one of us”: a guy with a background in creative writing and journalism, as well as a Howard Dean supporter. I think it’s also fair to say that the first Diarist piece, while not negative toward American troops in Iraq, showed them as mired in bleak and awful futility: at the end, Beauchamp reflects on his feelings of helplessness at his inability to protect the boy. So in that sense, it certainly fits into the current world-view at TNR. On the other hand, it could also be read as implying that if we withdraw from Iraq, we will leave the population in the hands of people who cut out children’s tongues to make a point.

Finally, I’m not sure why some of Jeff’s commenters think I’m helping “close ranks” in defense of TNR, or wondering what my reaction will be “if Beauchamp’s recantation is acknowledged and TNR still holds the articles as representative of the magazine’s journalism.” Where exactly is my defense of TNR? I said I believed that Beauchamp is a fabulist or at least a partial fabulist, and that TNR is wrong to stand by him. Nor did I ever say the story didn’t matter; I specifically said does, because I think journalistic integrity, particularly in reporting from a war zone, is important. I think they’re guilty of shoddy journalism, but not of trying to undermine the war. As far as I know, no anti-war blogs picked up Thomas’s piece or tried to trumpet his allegations before conservative blogs drew attention to the piece.

This is not to say that Beauchamp’s stories should have been left unchallenged — only to say that, even unchallenged, they would have been unlikely to have much tangible effect, good or bad.

Update, August 9: TNR denies Beauchamp’s recantation. The Weekly Standard stands by its story. The Army says its investigation has showed Beauchamp’s stories to be false. In the end, everyone will probably stick by their opinion.

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Filed under Iraq, journalism, Scott Thomas Beauchamp