Friday, February 10, 2006

An Open Letter to Male Film Reviewers Writing About Pride and Prejudice

Dear male film reviewers writing about Pride and Prejudice (and, sad to say, at least one woman).

I want to assure you that I have no doubts with regard to your masculinity. I'm sure you're all big, burly men with thick and bushy beards as long as your arms. I'm sure you drink your weight in beer and belch hugely afterwards every single night. I have no doubt that you can pleasure a woman, and have done so consistently since you were old enough to tell women and livestock apart. Nothing you or anyone else can say will ever cause me or the rest of your readers to doubt your virility or your manhood.

So could you please stop prefacing your Pride and Prejudice reviews with some variant on 'being a man, I naturally hate Jane Austen and everything having to do with her. I've never read Pride and Prejudice and don't intend to, since it's a fluffy, girly book for fluffy girls, and is about love and feelings and all those things that men find icky and gross. Nevertheless, I'm certain I would hate this book, which only fluffy girls who like reading about icky love and gross feelings would enjoy, since I'm a manly man and therefore above such things. Now, about the movie...'?

I want to be clear that I'm not requiring you to read Pride and Prejudice before you offer an opinion about the film. I don't think everyone on the planet should love Jane Austen and I wouldn't be distraught to read a review prefaced by a declaration that the reviewer disliked the book (I hardly could, as I myself have been known to trash a well-loved author or two). Similarly, a reviewer who simply announced their disinclination to read Pride and Prejudice would probably get a pass from me--there are plenty of lauded books that I don't care to read simply because they don't appeal to me. It's the implicit assumption that you must distance yourselves from icky Jane Austen romance cooties that drives me up the wall. This is precisely the kind of attitude that causes mainstream reviewers to launch into a paragraph of 'aren't Trekkies funny and pathetic' before saying anything even remotely positive about genre. But while I can almost see the rationale in wanting to maintain a distance from Klingon-speakers, by trashing Jane Austen you're blithely distancing yourselves from half of humanity, or at the very least a large sub-group of them who read a well-received and highly appreciated classic author, and making proud grunting noises as you do so.

The fact that you feel justified in distancing yourselves from Austen's novel is either an indication that you truly are profoundly insecure in your masculinity, or, more disturbingly, that Austen's fiction is still perceived as girly stuff, romance novels that won't get you laughed at too much, but romance nonetheless. That one of the finest authors in the English language, the author of genuine gems full of wit, keen insight, cutting observations of human nature, and brilliant characterizations should still be on the receiving end of this kind of condescension, even if it's only from silly film reviewers, is deeply disheartening.

But crusading for Austen's position in the canon isn't my purpose today. I just want to make one thing clear, dear male film reviewers writing about Pride and Prejudice: the fact that you are either too insecure or too set in your ways to even make an attempt at one of the finest novels in the English language is not, I repeat not, something to be proud of.

So zip it, OK?

(For those of your wondering why I'm only going on about this now when the film has been out for six months, it was released in Israel this week, and the local review--in Achbar HaIr, for interested Israelis--is textbook male condescension.)


Anonymous said...

"An Open Letter to Male Film Reviewers Writing About Pride and Prejudice"

Aren't you casting the net a little wide with that?


Telepresence said...

Perhaps the title of this post should be "Am open letter to (name of the particular critic who used this anoying framing device in Achbar HaIr)?

I just went and read 50 (out of about 150) reviews of Pride and Prejudice at Rottentomatoes. Most (3/4) were written by men, (which is it's own issue I reckon), and most were postive. 2 reviews touched on the genderedness of movie viewing in a way I thought was borderline, mostly in the way they talked about romances, but they could also have been read as commentaries/attacks on tired tropes, since Pride in Prejudice is such a template for this kind of story (Bridget Jones' Diary was mentioned).

Several reviews spoke of the book or Austen in what seemed like dismissive terms, however, the comments seemed pretty clearly to be more in the vein of being down on period peices/literary adaptations, or wanting to forget everything they were forced to read for homework in high school, not an attack on female writers, female protagonists, etc.

One male reviewer addressed his male readers in terms of how stupid they'd be to pass up such a great movie just because they percieved it as too girly. Another male reviewer talked about the movie's failings in relation to the BBC miniseries, which aparently he loves and owns on DVD and watches regularly, etc etc.

Out of the 50 reviews, only 1 reviewer spoke of the movie specifically in "girl stuff ucky but I'll soldier on as best I can" terms.

I agree with you the sentiment expressed in the Achbar HaIr review is obnoxious, but it also seems to be quite the minority, not limited to male reviews to begin with, and with many, many counterexamples. Why not address the isolated hacks for being a hack, instead of all male reviews everywhere, who overwhelmingly don't seem to be committing the crime?

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Yes, you're probably both right that I'm over-generalizing here. I do remember, when the film came out, reading more than one review that opened with this kind of condescension, but I couldn't track them down now and as Telepresence points out it does seem that they were in the minority.

Oh well. Rants are fun.

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