Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A response to Aaron Bady

Apropos of a conversation here.


I think what I keep taking exception to (and I felt this way about your Double Indemnity post as well) is just this repeated methodological gesture: "Yesyes, it's misogynistic, but that's not what's important here."

I can understand why one would make this gesture as a kind of self-regulation, if one is explicitly guarding against one's own critical tendencies. In a sense I'm criticizing you for doing a thing you never meant to do. But you keep seeming to mean to do it, and I think you should consider trying to put an end to that.

Here 'tis: You tend not to represent these moves as self-regulation; instead they seem to stage interventions in someone else's reductive reading. It's staged not as self-regulation but as intellectual correction: "Here I am to tell you why your reading is simplistic."

The reason this doesn't sit well with me is not personal but positional. This self-regulation-posing-as-intervention seems to misrepresent a position of privilege as critical sophistication, even objectivity. Because the misogyny is not directed at you, you get to say that it's not the important thing about the movie, and this gets turned into a critical virtue.

As a feminist critic who never saw the man-child as a remotely viable alternative to father-knows-best (because they are equally misogynistic), I cannot and will not say that misogyny is not the important thing. These are not abstractions to me, and I do not think it would amount to better criticism to proceed as if they were.

You say that these positions are differently misogynistic, and that the difference is illuminating. You are right about that as far as it goes. I've been arguing that it nonetheless doesn't go very far, because, as you have readily pointed out, these internal dynamics of an oppressive system are not explored in a way that can even countenance, much less suggest a path toward, a genuine refusal of that system. I don't see where it gets us to applaud male directors for making visible contradictions that feminists -- and not just academic feminists -- articulated, raised consciousness about, and fought to ameliorate thirty years ago. It's like applauding Mark Twain for suggesting in Huckleberry Finn that there are some contradictions in slavery. (I certainly don't want to dismiss HF in general, but on political grounds it's distinctly too little, too late.)

I agree, of course, that "Judd Apatow is sexist, sexism Judd Apatow, -- that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know" would be an unenlightening reading. I also think the dream-work model of ideology is productive. Your ideas, as they say, are intriguing to me, and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter blog.* Where I'm getting caught up is the moment when it seems to translate into a criticism that wants to be both political and detached, where detachment appears to be enabled primarily by privilege. I'm not sure it's possible; I'm even less sure that it's desirable.

*(Actually, I already do.)

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