Tuesday, August 09, 2011

In Response to Jeffrey Wells, about the London Riots

I was directed by a friend to Jeffrey Wells's latest column at Hollywood Elsewhere, and loath as I am to link to such a presumably well-intentioned but grossly considered piece, you ought to read it and read the string of comments below, at least up to Wells's defense of himself at #28, to know why I was so angered by what he wrote and so unable not to write this public response. In order to post a comment at Hollywood Elsewhere you have to register for the site, which I don't want to do, so I am posting here rather than over there.

Obviously, I don't know Jeffrey Wells and have nothing against him personally, but when you have as large and seemingly unregulated a pulpit as he does, you ought to take responsibility for how you're using it, or at least be prepared to hear back from the outraged and unimpressed. (I'm aware the same caveats apply to me, at my smaller daïs.)

Dear Jeffrey Wells,

Reflecting back at you the implications of your own statements is not the same as distorting them. You write about movies. You know that what people think they have "clearly expressed and intended" does not always come through that way, or often reflects implications or assumptions they haven't fully considered, or turns out to be something that didn't deserve expression on such a huge platform.

From your defense of your own post: "...or in such a way that it wasn't about flames and looting as much as a Howard Beale-type rage about how putrid and corrupted so much has become in Washington, D.C."

What you're talking about is not a modification of what's happening in London but a completely different thing. Maybe London's what made you think about Washington and Howard Beale, and you do make a vague nod to the vast difference in the situations you invoke. Still, linking the thoughts the way you have makes both seem incoherent, to say nothing of insensitive. You say you weren't suggesting any "spillover," yet your whole piece here is structured as a conceptual spillover.

Sometimes a title like "If Only..." matched to a snapshot of a family business engulfed in flames does its own work on your audience, no matter what you write underneath it, which is something else that a person who reports on an image-based medium might have considered. And your repeated invocations of Howard Beale really make it sound as though your ideas about politics and so-called protest come from movies and little else. Possibly not even from movies you have understood very well, as witness the profound political impotence of Howard Beale, no matter how angry he gets, and his swift, barely sweat-breaking corporate annihilation.

Particularly on behalf of any readers who are directly affected by what is happening in London, if not out of any obligation to mature reasoning and calmer reflection, can you possibly admit to having run wild with what you confess to be "rote boilerplate explanations" and "accurate or inaccurate" reporting about a situation that does not affect you? A situation, too, that you do not seem to be pondering in a very humble or subtle way, but which you have used nonetheless as as a platform by which to foment fantasies of something "similar" that is not in fact similar at all, and doesn't get its hypothetical hands dirty with, you know, the "flames and lootings," etc.? If only, indeed.

If you want to hear more Howard Beales shrieking into the wind, you are welcome to hold your ear up to the Internet. As it turns out, you're already on it!

P.S. I want to thank my reader Laika, who provided this link to such an admirable and thought-provoking meditation on what is still unfolding in England, written by a blogger who lives there. I'm sure there are comparably subtle and multi-faceted responses cropping up elsewhere. Anyone who wants to provide more links to that kind of commentary is more than welcome; it's probably the best use of the post.