Left Behinds

The anti-andrewsullivan.com. Or, the Robin Hood (Maid Marian?) of bright pink Blogger blogs.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

I'm Against Gay Marriage, But I Want to Marry Armond White

I'm one of those suckers that finally saw Crash after it won the Oscar. It was even worse than I'd expected. The only things keeping me going were Ryan Phillippe's lips and the fact that Matt Dillon's presence is always a reminder of his classic first film, Over the Edge. The redoubtable Richard Kim just wrote a provocative piece in The Nation arguing that Crash was the most odious movie of last year. As Kim wrote, "easy and self-congratulatory liberalizing is the epitome of the film ... The moral of Crash is: Don't worry, everyone's a little bit racist."
(more after the jump)

Funny, but also trenchant. Earlier, Kim derides "white critics" like Roger Ebert for loving the film. He was taken to task for this remark in the comments. First of all, saying "white film critics" is a bit redundant, isn't it? That's like saying "male film critics" or "bourgeois Nation writers." I can count the people of color among mainstream film critics on one hand (though they include two of my favorite contrarians -- Elvis Mitchell and Armond White). The fact is, white film critics also hated Crash. What Kim was probably getting at is that only white critics loved Crash. Professional and amateur critics of color (I really liked what Saurelia wrote in the early comments to his piece, for instance) consistently did not feel Crash. At all.

I was not feeling the Jeff Chang/Sylvia Chan roundtable Kim linked to (a few good, disjointed observations, but way too much jargon, too much oversimplification, too much lazy thinking in general), but I fell for Armond White all over again when I just read his Crash review. If I were not a proponent of civil unions for all rather than marriages for some, I'd want to marry White. Maybe we can at least date. His opening salvo:

Local critics praising Paul Haggis' Crash accidentally reveal racism so deeply hidden in their own privilege that they casually ignore it while expressing high-minded appreciation for this film's fake controversies. Nothing appeases a wounded culture more than a blanket condemnation of other people. Haggis' West Coast crazy quilt takes place so far away from reality that it has been greeted with an It-Couldn't-Happen-Here nonchalance.

My Armond

Word. What really got me was the virtuosic way he later incorporates "Los Angeles" by X (a song I happen to have been listening to a lot the past week -- omg we're so meant for each other):

Crash appeals to the socially empowered—from The New Yorker to Entertainment Weekly—because its hackneyed melodrama doesn't demand imaginative self-examination. New Yorkers who mistake rudeness for honesty may also confuse insult for art. However, when the L.A. punk musicians X recorded "Los Angeles" in 1980, they looked at the tensions and prejudices from an upstart's position of social disgust. X got things right by admitting and undermining the twists of social and racial privilege. ("She started to hate every nigger and Jew/ Every Mexican who ever gave her a lot of shit/ Every homosexual and the idle rich/ It felt sad.")

In Haggis' dull perception, he blames Bullock's character for racial profiling but then demonstrates that her suspicions about black men are right. The Persian merchant's hysteria too closely recalls both Falling Down and the inane climax of The House of Sand and Fog (another shortcut to post-9/11 phobia). And the persistent reduction of the black male characters—Cheadle, Howard, Ludacris, Tate—to sputtering impotence reveals no personal empathy. Haggis' inability to humanize these types beyond sentimentalizing their confusion proves his exploitation impulse. It's the easy, comfortable route.

X notwithstanding (and perhaps I'm revealing my East Coast bias), I thought that many of Crash's problems were byproducts of Los Angeles myopia. Only in a pseudo-city like LA (a series of suburbs in search of a city) could white writers imagine that you have to accidentally crash into each other to notice one another. Could you imagine such a dumbass idea emerging from a real city where people interact with each other while walking on the streets every single day? (sorry, Emma, for hating on your adopted city, but I still consider you a New Yorker) Racism is epidemic in the U.S., but it looks and feels and sounds nothing like what's depicted in Crash.

For a good (though flawed) movie dealing with racism, check out Cache by Michael Haneke. Or, even better, his previous film Code Inconnu. CI's scene with Juliette Binoche getting harrassed by Franco-Arab teens on the Metro is like what Crash probably wanted to be, except depicted with complexity and believable characters and dialogue. Which completely changes the politics of the film.

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  • At 10:01 PM, Blogger Phoebe Evergreen said…

    Dude, can the Los Angeles hatin'. You're perpetuating the problem. It's exactly that pernicious "oh-we're-just-a-suburb" myth that sucka MCs like Haggis fall for, living in deep Stockholm syndrome captivity to East Coasters' stereotypes about his own city.

    That's not to say that Los Angeles isn't remarkably segregated in parts, notably the Westside where much of the above-the-line industry lives. But the San Fernando Valley, despite its suburban layout, is very diverse. The area I live in is possibly the most diverse, though it's also the least African-American. In South L.A., blacks and Latinos live in uncomfortable proximity, and there have been plenty of racial flare-ups recently, especially in the schools (where I live, some Latino-Armenian)--none of which has anything to do with the idea that we're trapped in our cars. I certainly don't want to get into the trap of hatin' on Crash because people aren't really racist, because, well, they are. The important argument is that racism is more than a personal problem, put well and succinctly here.

    I think the high concept of Crash -- that the only time we come into contact with each other is in a car crash -- is kind of a neat idea. It might have made for a cute satire, but as a Profound Social Statement it just seems asinine. Maybe you guys could shoot a movie about how New York apartment-dwellers are so vertically stratified that the only time you get to know one another is when your bathtubs fall through the floor into the apartment below. Or maybe Crash would have been a good movie if it had fused with the Cronenberg precursor and been about how only in car crashes can whites, Latinos, Persians and blacks all have sex.

    Ultimately, Crash is not how segregation works in Los Angeles. Less than a mile from my neighborhood we find Manhattan-level densities, the second highest in the nation. The myth of a suburban city has corrupted our planning to the point that people build yardscrapers instead of skyscrapers, forced to build over their much-vaunted yards to accomodate growth. We're waking up from it. (This is why I'm in comments instead of my own blog; I don't actually have time to write a suitable paragraph that would explain how segregation and racism work in L.A. But please continue to follow my meander.)

    Of course, that's all getting away from the fact that Crash is a deeply stupid movie, which I managed to figure out pretty early on, I'm proud to say. Mine virgin eyes remain untouched by its ravages, and I feel proud to speak out against it without having seen it. Although I hardly need to; adding Manohla Dargis and Kenneth Turan to the Kim and White articles, there's a cornucopia of Crash-hating upon which to feast.

    If you want to see a good movie about race and Los Angeles, see Volcano. Not only do you have an actual analysis of spatial segregation in Los Angeles -- a wealthy developer opposes the subway extension because it will bring poor people of color to his Westside neighborhood -- but you also have TOMMY LEE JONES kicking the ass of a VOLCANO!

  • At 10:32 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Good points (you seem thirteen fifteenths smart enough to be like the president or something).

    And you're right, I was talking out of my ass about LA. I haven't been there in years, and I've never lived there. Although, I didn't quite follow what you were saying about the myth of a suburban city corrupting LA planning. Doesn't that then mean that LA is designed as a suburban city? What's a yardscraper? You mean people build home-attachments onto their yards, to accomodate the density?

    Yeah, I wasn't saying people aren't racist, I were saying the racism portrayed in Crash is so unlike the racism in the real world that it's sort of reassuring.

    only in car crashes can whites, Latinos, Persians and blacks all have sex.

    Uh, I'll have to invite you to my next party.

  • At 10:34 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    (btw, that says "I were saying" because originally I wrote "Armond and I were saying," but then deleted his name because I thought it sounded needy -- Armond, CALL ME!)

  • At 3:20 PM, Blogger Phoebe Evergreen said…

    Aiiigh! Blogger ate my response. Recap:

    * You understand yardscrapers perfectly.
    * L.A. is very dense and urban.
    * The "suburbs-in-search-of-a-city" myth has two existences. One is as a cultural put-down, where it belongs in the dustbin. The other is where it's a myth that is real and harmful: for too long, people have defended suburban layouts while growth continues, leading to the yardscraper problem, the bussing problem, and general head-in-the-sand-ness. See Mike Davis on slow-growth and no-growth as both progressive (enviro) and regressive (valley suburban) politics at the same time. A more hopeful direction is "growth with justice".
    *Two good though flawed follow-up links: Tom Hayden in the HuffPo, where he brings up a much better characterization of racial realities in L.A. (though in the service, mysteriously, of defending the movie) and Steve Lopez in the LA Times, where he paints a fairly typical picture of lived diversity in Los Angeles (in Coco's neighborhood) but uses it to dismiss Crash's charge that L.A. has racial problems.
    *New York drools. L.A. rulez! Come visit.

  • At 2:30 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    That Lopez article was pretty funny. Thing is, Crash wasn't any more ridiculous than his parody. Its lack of verisimilitude is what defangs its critique and in fact makes it reactionary pablum.

    I think Hayden was just happy someone was talking about race and class in LA (has he listened to West Coast hiphop from the past 20 years? Seen Boyz in the Hood? Volcano?).

    I dated a guy from Compton for a couple years, and it was always a sore point that I didn't "get" LA. I mean, he went to a corporate-owned high school for smart poor kids where all the kids did internships at the corporation, and he didn't see anything wrong with that. For me, that encapsulated a lot of what was wrong with LA.

    I'll stop hating, though, because some of my favorite people have fallen in like with LA over the past few years. I reserve the right to give it another try (though the fact that I never learned how to drive probably doesn't bode well for our future together, me and the city of angels).

  • At 2:31 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    (Crash's lack of verisimilitude, not Lopez's)

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  • At 3:03 PM, Anonymous Sildenafil said…

    well I watched Crash before it won the Oscar for the best film, and I did like the movie, I don't think it is an outstanding movie, but it is a good one!

  • At 12:44 PM, Anonymous Generic Viagra said…

    Ryan Phillippe is so interested because attended a party given for actress Reese Witherspoon's 21st birthday and had soem hot moments with her, but somebody say the he is gay!!! I do not what I have to believe?22dd


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