There is a movie coming out soon called “The Wife”. From the early reviews and synopsis it sounds like this: a great American writer wins the Nobel Prize for literature. We are assumed to believe that because he is a great writer he must also be a great husband and father, even though nobody I know of, who has any awareness of the biographies of well-known person, would ever assume this. But, shockingly, we find out that he has been mean and unfaithful, while his loyal and selfless wife has sacrificed her own stellar career to serve as his constant help-meet, washing his clothes, making his meals, cleaning his house, and raising the son who now resents his successful father. So we are to hate him and admire the plucky woman for, apparently, in the end, finally–finally!– summoning the amazing courage to stand up to him.
We are supposed to be shocked, as I said, that a brilliant writer might be a lousy husband. We are supposed to find irrelevant any aspects of the wife’s character that might diminish the horror we are to feel. But then, they don’t tell that story. In the story I expect, she is faultless. She’s not manipulative or needy or nagging or petty or vindictive. She didn’t push him into marriage. She didn’t spend his money as if she had earned it. She is just perfect. It wouldn’t shock me– this is Hollywood– that we find out that she actually wrote all his books. [I just checked a review: I think I’m correct. That’s too bad: it would probably have been a more interesting movie if he had been terrified of her, that she would reveal the secret, and she used this dynamic to toy with him.]
And it is incredible how someone in a relationship with such a perfect being could fail to treat her like a goddess.
[When the movie arrives, I’ll see it, and correct my impression if necessary.]
Added January 19, 2019: I have seen the movie now: I was correct. Pretty well, exactly correct. Though I think the film-makers thought her nagging of Joe was adorable in some way. What it reveals is that this story, written by a woman, is really judging Joe as a husband who didn’t appreciate everything his wife did for him. The fact that she supposedly wrote most of his work– the most preposterous and unbelievable aspect of the story– is incidental to the real point: he wasn’t nice enough to her. Or to his son– in the movie, Joe is a prick for not being more supportive. In real life, of course, we all are especially appreciative of those privileged people who get published because they were related to someone with strings to pull, like Joe Castleman. (Look at Ingmar Bergman’s daughter, Linn Ullmann, who was extremely wary of attracting readers who were more interested in her famous parents than in her writing.) The fact that David, the son, doesn’t seem to realize what position he has put his father in — how dare you not recognize my talent!– tells you just as mediocre the thinking behind this film is.
From the start, Joan seems paralyzed by the realization that she has wasted her life devoting herself to a man incapable of even the most momentary act of selflessness. [Slant]
WTF? Wait a minute– you are trying to suggest that she is actually an incredibly worthy person because she actually wrote the award-winning books so her husband could take all the honors. Then you suggest that what really matters is that he wasn’t grateful!
So Joan is “selfless”? But if she was– think about this– if she really was selfless, she wouldn’t care. That is what selflessness is. But she is in fact very selfish because she expects a considerable amount of gratitude and respect in exchange for the waste of her life. Her “love” is more like overflowing self-infatuation. Her view of justice is that now that I’ve done all these things for you, you owe me.
Is the remarkable thing here that a person can be an asshole? Or that a person can devote her life to serving an asshole and not realize it until she is old? I’m not sure, in the end, that there is anything to admire about this woman. Seriously? You didn’t leave? Are you an idiot? Are we now supposed to be moved by your predicament?
It also appears “The Wife” will suggest that the wife would not have received recognition if she had struck out on her own, as a woman, right at the start. Because the establishment is dominated by men. But that only matters if she didn’t really care about literature— if it was the recognition that mattered, and the material success. That men think she is just as good as they are. Even though she didn’t take any of the steps necessary to become a successful novelist.
Besides, this will be shocking news to Doris Lessing, Shirley Jackson, Patricia Highsmith, Flannery O’Conner, Francoise Sagan, Agatha Christie, Sylvia Plath and others.
Because she’s entitled.
Isn’t that exactly the difference between great artists and mediocre ones?
You think you’re so smart, you men.
It would be a far, far more interesting movie if she didn’t care about the fucking Nobel prize or any other prize: if what she really cared about was writing something beautiful and true, for the satisfaction of those who didn’t care about awards or celebrities or what fucking outfit she was wearing, or if Oprah will have her on, or if men still find her sexually attractive at 50, but only about the really beautiful and original and profound and true.
Like Doris Lessing. Or Muriel Spark. Or Alice Munro.
And I would wager that, in this movie, her outfits are to die for. Because, she really only cares about real literature. [They were. At least, if you care about the fashion.]
It will be irresistible to the Oprah crowd. Oprah, who wouldn’t make Jonathan Franzen’s novel a book of the month unless he agreed to appear on her show and, frankly, grovel. He rejected it at first but finally took the bait and his novel flourished. I’ll bet, in his own mind, he still can’t wash away the stink. That, my friends, is a story for a movie. For a potentially great movie. For a movie that Hollywood will never make.
Here’s the thing, feminists: if Oprah Winfrey had had a single ounce of real integrity, she would have made Franzen’s book her selection and would have praised him for his refusal to kowtow to narcissistic tv hostesses who wanted to use him to enhance their own prestige.
And is this dynamic supposed to be representative of which spouse takes advantage of which spouses’ abilities? See Hillary Clinton below. See Melinda Gates. See Greta Gerwig. See Soulpepper.
That’s mainstream Hollywood. For the adult version of this story– I mean “adult” in the sense that it presents a mature intellectual context– see “Wild Strawberries” by Ingmar Bergman, one of my favorite films of all time. Or try his “Autumn Sonata” if you want the more likely story. Or “Scenes From a Marriage” if you can handle complexity. Or Asghar Farhadi’s brilliant “A Separation”. Or even Robert Redford’s “Ordinary People”. But then, those are not feminist fairy tales.
This in an era where women have accused numerous brilliant men of being monsters because, even though they created great art or produced important products or were very funny, they were not nice to them. Because even though they took the money, they still feel aggrieved and wronged. You took the money. Bill Cosby (whose work I generally can’t stand anyway), Harvey Weinstein, Woody Allen, Al Franken, Jeff Fager, Leslie Moonves, Louis C.K., Albert Schultz.
Steve Jobs is accused of being a lousy dad by his daughter, Lisa Brennan-Jobs. He was a lousy dad. He was not nearly the brilliant innovator his acolytes claim, either, but he did something important and significant. And the role of his daughter’s book is to excoriate him because he was not nice to her. She is asking you to buy and read her book because you will want to know that he was not nice to her. Because we all needed to know this, just in case we assumed that because he ran Apple he was also a great husband and father. Because he didn’t make her a princess. Because maybe you don’t think she is important enough to merit your attention (whereas, he is). He didn’t give her his Porsche, even after she asked for it. He didn’t love her unconditionally. [Lisa’s book deserves a much more extensive discussion: it’s complex and alternately self-serving and expressive.] He merely acquired the fame that allows his daughter to write a book and go on the talk shows and talk about me, me, me, and me.
And how mean it was of him to not give her a Porsche.
Therefore, he is not worthy of respect or admiration or awards? We are supposed to be shocked that a man admired for one thing should not be admired for something else?
Apparently, Brennan-Jobs was concerned that people would believe she was writing a book just to cash in on her relationship with her famous dad. She should be concerned about that. It sounds to me like nobody would buy a book by Lisa Brennan-Jobs if the book was not about her father. That’s not to say she can’t write. That’s not to say she didn’t have editorial help from the kind of editor you get if your book is assured of big sales and high profile. And you will be invited onto Oprah, or Ellen, or whoever that audience worships today.
Here’s the problem I have with this. The implication of #metoo is that the work done by these artists and geniuses is now worthless because they were not nice to their accusers. The implication is that the sources of these allegations are convinced that we are all under the illusion that because a man is famous for his films or paintings or music or jokes we all assume he was a fine person as well. We don’t. We never did. It was never the point.
So we should fire these men, boycott their films, rescind their honorary titles, retract their Oscars and Grammys and Nobels, and so on? We should all hate them and declare that we are no longer moved by their art, or amused by their jokes?
While some of the most famous musicians of all time may be our favorite idols, it can be easy to forget that they’re not as great as we build them up to be. Yes, they may make amazing music, but that doesn’t necessarily make them a good person. From Here
What?! It is “easy to forget” that they might be assholes? We’re supposed to be shocked to find out that even artist might be jerks?
You people think this guy is great? Well, he was very mean to me, so that proves he is not great. And he wanted to have sex with me– he saw me as an object, so he is now subhuman and I get to decide when he has paid enough for his monstrous sins.
Dylan Farrow displays conspicuous anger directed towards people who continue to regard Woody Allen as a great director. What about me? He treated me badly, so he’s not so great. Why do you keep saying “Manhattan” was a great film?
Because “Manhattan” was wildly greater than anything you will ever do in your entire life. Especially if your claim to fame is that you were a victim.
And Greta Gerwig, who was delighted to star in a Woody Allen film when it helped her career, now says she would never do it again. Really? I don’t believe her. (There are women who now insist that Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” is as good as a Woody Allen film– no, better. It’s not true, not even close. “Lady Bird” will be completely forgotten in a year; “Manhattan”, “Crimes and Misdemeanors”, “Annie Hall”, “Hannah and Her Sisters” will endure.)
It’s an odd equation. I can’t find a good analogy for it. Is “Manhattan” now a bad film? Should we remove all the Picasso’s from our art galleries? Should we stop watching the only serious prime-time news program on the big three networks, “60 Minutes”?
Is the equation this: your novels, your movies, your music doesn’t matter, because you were mean to me.
It is the argument of a narcissist.
I don’t mean to use the word “mean” in a demeaning way. That is, in a way that minimizes the seriousness of the offenses. In some cases, like Woody Allen, I don’t believe the allegations at all. In other cases, like Weinstein, I believe he was exactly the kind of creepy, awful person it is claimed. So does that mean “Thin Blue Line”, “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” (the most aptly named of Weinstein’s films), “Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down”, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover”, “The English Patient”, “Pulp Fiction”, “Clerks”, “Shakespeare in Love”, “Good Will Hunting”, and so on… are now crummy films?
The people accusing Albert Schultz of improprieties did not go out and found their own theatrical group, find donors and raise money, build a theatre, develop training programs, select plays, develop talent, arrange a New York tour, and win awards for their productions. No, they deposed him and then took over Soulpepper, which is entirely the result of Albert Schultz’ visionary work. Does nobody at least find this distasteful? Are those women now parading around going, “look at this great theatre company we made! You’re welcome!”
The people who took over “Q” on CBC are benefiting, to an overwhelming degree, from the pioneering work performed by– like him or not– (I always found him a bit of a sycophant) Jian Ghomeshi. If the CBC had meant to be honorable, they should have cancelled the program, and taken the hit in ratings. Instead, they are cashing in on the format and style and memes that Ghomeshi brought to the program while pissing all over his reputation.
And I find the name “The Bill and Melinda Gates” foundation a bit cheesy. Bill Gates– whom I regard as an asshole for what he did to computing-– built a gigantic software company that dominates the entire world of computing. Melinda Gates married a man who built the company that dominates the entire world of computing. So their accomplishments merit equal recognition in the name of the foundation? Without a doubt, Melinda Gates will share innumerable awards for handing out her husband’s money. And she shares equal billing on the foundation even though her contribution to the funding that gives it all of its cache is exactly zilch.
(Bill Gates is a unique case: he is widely and mistakenly admired for his personal character and for his material success. His charitable work is admirable, but I refuse to let him off the hook for the damage he did to the progress of computers for at least ten years. I believe he did for software what Harvey Weinstein is alleged to have done for women).
Fortunately, Bill Gates reserved his predatory behavior for other software companies, like Word Perfect and Novell and Lotus and Geoworks and Vermeer Technologies, and not women. So this is not about #metoo. Well, it is. It’s about women asserting that there is something about themselves that is just as valuable and just as admirable as the accomplishments of the men they were attached to. But there is a similar equation going on here: why should the wife share the recognition? Why should Bill Gates get all the love when I’m his wife. I’m just as good. I’m just as important. The foundation should have my name on it. Because I help run it. With Bill’s money.
For the same reason, I annoyed some of my female friends by complaining about the fact that the wife of a former President was running for president. I found it bizarre. Is the U.S. like those tin pot dictatorships in the 60’s and 70’s in Latin America? This is Eva Peron territory. Why on earth, in a nation of 350 million people, could the Democratic Party have found no one to nominate for president except for Bill Clinton’s wife? It’s absurd. It was Bill who ran for governor, and then president, and won, and served for 8 years. So Hillary stepped up and said, well, I’m his wife. I should be Senator from New York. And then, I should be Secretary of State. And then, I should be president. I am entitled to be president. And several of my acquaintances really insisted that, remarkably, the most qualified person to be president of the United States was the wife of the President of the United States.
She came along and jumped to the front of the parade, because that’s where her husband, who started in the back and actually worked his way to the front, was now marching. And then she brought along Kirsten Gillibrand, mentored her, supported her move into politics, came out with Bill to support her candidacy to the House of Representatives, pulled strings to get her appointed to her vacant Senate seat, raised money for her, only to have Gillibrand turn around and smear Bill Clinton during the #metoo campaign. Once again, a woman riding on a man’s coattails (Bill Clinton->Hillary->Kirsten) acts as if her position was entirely or even mostly the result of her own hard work and determination. Bill Clinton stood in my way.
Now, somebody is going to claim that Bill Clinton would never have got as far as he did without Hillary. Bullshit. Hillary was smart, well-educated, and would have been an exceptional lawyer. She was also interchangeable with any number of smart, educated, talented women. On her own, she did nothing particularly unique, other than bungling the Clinton health-care initiative. Bill Clinton was not interchangeable; Hillary Clinton was.
I think sooner or later a balancing will occur and people will recognize that just because a famous man was an asshole– and many of them were– doesn’t mean that his accomplishments were not remarkable.
And we know that no biographical movie or book is going to give you the chapter showing these women suggesting, politely, discretely, ever so seductively, and persistently, to their husbands, that they be given prestigious positions in their company, foundation, or party, ahead of all the other employees, campaign workers, artists, and political staff who worked their entire lives to get to that position. They won’t mind: I’m your wife.
No more than the latest “Star is Born” is going to show you Ally begging Jackson Maine to give her a slot on stage. No, no, no– the convention that is required here is that she is begged to perform because the star is indisposed or no one else can do it, and besides, the backup band just adores you– they know you are really fantastic, and the audience– they didn’t need to be told by the director to give you a standing ovation– they just felt it!
No, because it would be a dead giveaway to the audience if you were to ask for it. It must be deserved, not weaseled for.
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