Louisa May Alcott in a war zone...


...alongside Girls Learning to Skateboard:
Like Tinseltown's other adapters before her, Greta Gerwig made many changes in Louisa May Alcott's most famous book.

Most comical, but also just sad, would have to be the change which followed a reported declaration. "You know we can’t actually have [Jo] marry Professor Bhaer,” Gerwig is said to have said.

Too funny! This seems to have led to the complexified ending of Gerwig's film, which has fanpersons debating whether the pair actually got married or not.

Has anyone ever made this "adaptation" before? As far as we know, no one has.

That's the most comical of Gerwig's ch-ch-ch-ch-changes. The larger change is an adaptation which has been widely performed in the past, involving that school for those kids.

In the final chapter of Alcott's novel, Jo March and Professor Bhaer get married, then open and operate a school for destitute boys. Jo doesn't write a book. Instead, she's wasting her time doing this:
ALCOTT (chapter 47): It never was a fashionable school, and the Professor did not lay up a fortune, but it was just what Jo intended it to be—"a happy, homelike place for boys, who needed teaching, care, and kindness". ...Very precious to Jo was the friendship of the lads, their penitent sniffs and whispers after wrongdoing, their droll or touching little confidences, their pleasant enthusiasms, hopes, and plans, even their misfortunes, for they only endeared them to her all the more. There were slow boys and bashful boys, feeble boys and riotous boys, boys that lisped and boys that stuttered, one or two lame ones, and a merry little quadroon, who could not be taken in elsewhere, but who was welcome to the "Bhaer-garten", though some people predicted that his admission would ruin the school.

Yes, Jo was a very happy woman there, in spite of hard work, much anxiety, and a perpetual racket. She enjoyed it heartily and found the applause of her boys more satisfying than any praise of the world, for now she told no stories except to her flock of enthusiastic believers and admirers...
Five years have flown by as the novel ends. The married couple is still engaged in this tedious work. This includes the fellow who's too stout, and too unromantic, for the modern progressives of Vox.

As far as we know, no adapter has taken much interest in this, the actual ending to Alcott's book. Tinseltown has tended to substitute a closing adventure in which Jo publishes a book, an exciting event which doesn't occur at the end of Alcott's novel.

In these adaptations, we see Jo gain the applause of the world. Modern thought leaders still want this!

Unless you've been alive for the past many years, you might be inclined to think that we modern progressives could take interest in Alcott's fictional school for those fictional destitute kids. Like other adapters before her, Gerwig largely blew past those events, substituting a thrilling adventure which doesn't occur in the book.

That said, how intriguing! Last Sunday night, in Hollywood, a female director won an Oscar for a film about a school for impoverished kids! (For the full list of winners, click here.)

The director in question is Carol Dysinger. She won the Oscar for Best Documentary (Short Subject) for a 39-minute film with a beautifully poetic title:
Learning to Skateboard In a Warzone (if you're a girl)
Dysinger's 39-minute film is built around the students and teachers of Skateistan, a school for low-income kids found at an undisclosed location in Kabul. We strongly advise you to find a way to watch it, perhaps through this site at A&E.

You'll come, perhaps, for the novelty. You'll stay for the youthful desire, for the reflexive smiling and laughter.

Skateistan serves girls and boys. Dysinger's film is about the girls. Its opening chyron says this:
17 years after the Taliban fell, Afghanistan is still one of the wort places in the world to be born a girl.
Also, Afghanistan is still a war zone. The film takes over from there.

We won't try to list the many things you can see in this film. In our view, the film contains multitudes. We think you should try to watch it.

We were struck, on Oscar night, by the contrast between the demeanors of the little-known documentary winners and those of the Tinseltown stars. For Dysinger's occasionally acerbic acceptance speech, you can just click here.

Later, we were struck by an irony:

The female director we've been instructed to love could find no interest in Alcott's school for destitute boys. The female director who will go unmentioned built her film around a school—a school in a war zone—for low-income, out-of-school girls who hope for a chance in the world.

In Dysinger's film, beautiful children are learning to skateboard in a war zone. The one film touched off a tribal stampede. The other will stay unnoticed.

Alcott in a war zone: This morning, we reread one chapter in Susan Cheever's 2010 book, Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography.

The chapter in question is Chapter 6. It describes the time Alcott spent in a war zone during our Civil War.

In 1863, Alcott went to Washington to serve as a nurse in a Union hospital. Cheever's account is built upon the letters Alcott sent home—letters which were later published under the title Hospital Sketches.

Cheever's account is riveting. Eventually, we get to this:
CHEEVER (page 156): One man who stood out in the ward of dying men was a Virginia blacksmith named John Suhre. He had never married but devoted his life to helping his mother and family. Now he lay dying with a musket ball lodged in his lungs, but since his wound was in his back, he could hardly believe the pain he felt or understand his peril. Tall and extremely handsome, he was dying without complaint or remorse, and Alcott spent as much time with him as she could...
Suhre wanted to know if he was dying. The surgeon charged Alcott with the task of telling him he was.

"This exchange brought the two of them even closer," Cheever writes, "and both waited for a letter that might reassure him that his mother and younger sister might be taken care of."

This was part of Alcott's time in a war zone. Cheever continues with an account of the night Suhre died.

"Alcott sat grieving by his bed" in these last few hours, Cheever writes. "After John Suhre's body finally failed," Alcott needed help to pry his fingers away from her own.

That was life in one of our war zones. Five years later, Alcott wrote Little Women.

Today, people are helping children learn to skateboard in a different war zone. You've never heard of the director who created a "love letter to the brave girls" of the country where these efforts are taking place. On the other hand, we've all been barraged with routinely illogical complaints about the heinous way the famous, upscale director allegedly got snubbed.

We'll be watching Dysinger's film again. More than anything else, we were struck by a mystery it contains—the mystery of youthful energy and desire, the mystery of where laughter and smiling come from.

Within our own tribe, Professor Bhaer was too fat for Jo to marry and destitute children are boring. These have been our values for a very long time.

Hollywood groans beneath these values. Does everyone know this but us?

THE RATIONAL ANIMAL'S FICTIONS: No Mandated Tribal Claim Left Behind!


Trump comes for Gerwig's "values:"
It seems that no one actually reads Little Women any more.

In her interesting 2018 book, Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters, Anne Boyd Rioux delivers the data. According to a 2012 survey, "only 0.08 percent of the 7.6 million American students surveyed had read Little Women the previous school year," Rioux reports at one point.

With math known to be hard, let's spell it out. That means that eight kids out of every ten thousand had read Louisa May Alcott's book in the previous year.

That doesn't mean that Americans kids were no longer reading the book at all. But Rioux's book includes data from various surveys, in Great Britain and the U.S., which indicate that very few contemporary kids ever read Little Women.

It isn't hard to understand why the famous book goes unread. In many ways, the highly influential book is now substantially dated. Just consider a few events the reader is asked to accept:

Jo March, the heroine of the book, marries a man who is stout. (When they meet, he's almost 40!) "Why would [Alcott] do such a thing to us?" progressive expert voices now cry.

Jo's husband is old and stout, but things get even worse. At the end of the book, the pair have opened, and are running, a school for destitute children! Modern progressives can't be expected to find their ground in such tedious conduct. Who then will recommend this tired old book to those who are young?

Sardonics aside, Alcott's text may be hard to follow for modern readers in general. Consider an event which makes Jo admire Professor Bhaer despite the fact that he's fat.

As Jo is getting to know the professor, a third party invites the pair to attend "a select symposium, held in honor of several celebrities." For the record, these are intellectual celebrities, and, despite her "reverence for genius," Jo is thoroughly "disillusioned" by what she sees and hears.

(By way of contrast, we modern progressives will always repeat whatever er see or hear.)

At any rate, in the part of the evening described below, the philosophers start to showcase their wares. Alcott reports what happened:
ALCOTT (chapter 34): Before the evening was half over, Jo felt so completely disillusioned, that she sat down in a corner to recover herself. Mr. Bhaer soon joined her, looking rather out of his element, and presently several of the philosophers, each mounted on his hobby, came ambling up to hold an intellectual tournament in the recess. The conversations were miles beyond Jo's comprehension, but she enjoyed it, though Kant and Hegel were unknown gods, the Subjective and Objective unintelligible terms, and the only thing 'evolved from her inner consciousness' was a bad headache after it was all over. It dawned upon her gradually that the world was being picked to pieces, and put together on new and, according to the talkers, on infinitely better principles than before, that religion was in a fair way to be reasoned into nothingness, and intellect was to be the only God. Jo knew nothing about philosophy or metaphysics of any sort, but a curious excitement, half pleasurable, half painful, came over her as she listened with a sense of being turned adrift into time and space, like a young balloon out on a holiday.

She looked round to see how the Professor liked it, and found him looking at her with the grimmest expression she had ever seen him wear. He shook his head and beckoned her to come away, but she was fascinated just then by the freedom of Speculative Philosophy, and kept her seat, trying to find out what the wise gentlemen intended to rely upon after they had annihilated all the old beliefs.
Jo is troubled because a bunch of philosophers are rolling their eyes at religion. Why did she come to admire Professor Bhaer despite his age and his girth? Skillfully, Alcott explains:
ALCOTT: Now, Mr. Bhaer was a diffident man and slow to offer his own opinions, not because they were unsettled, but too sincere and earnest to be lightly spoken. As he glanced from Jo to several other young people, attracted by the brilliancy of the philosophic pyrotechnics, he knit his brows and longed to speak, fearing that some inflammable young soul would be led astray by the rockets, to find when the display was over that they had only an empty stick or a scorched hand.

He bore it as long as he could, but when he was appealed to for an opinion, he blazed up with honest indignation and defended religion with all the eloquence of truth—an eloquence which made his broken English musical and his plain face beautiful. He had a hard fight, for the wise men argued well, but he didn't know when he was beaten and stood to his colors like a man. Somehow, as he talked, the world got right again to Jo. The old beliefs, that had lasted so long, seemed better than the new. God was not a blind force, and immortality was not a pretty fable, but a blessed fact. She felt as if she had solid ground under her feet again, and when Mr. Bhaer paused, outtalked but not one whit convinced, Jo wanted to clap her hands and thank him.

She did neither, but she remembered the scene, and gave the Professor her heartiest respect, for she knew it cost him an effort to speak out then and there, because his conscience would not let him be silent. She began to see that character is a better possession than money, rank, intellect, or beauty, and to feel that if greatness is what a wise man has defined it to be, "truth, reverence, and good will", then her friend Friedrich Bhaer was not only good, but great.
Professor Bhaer had been willing to stand and fight on behalf of religious belief. Weirdly, Jo "began to see that that character is a better possession than...beauty."

According to Alcott, Jo's belief that Bhaer was not only good, but great, "strengthened daily." It is at this point that Professor Bhaer tells Jo that he disapproves, as a general matter, of lurid "sensation stories."

According to Professor Matteson, this imposition of the masculine gaze causes Jo a great deal of pain, and she reacts with "indignation." Inevitably, Professor Bhaer is "largely oblivious to the depth of the pain" he has caused.

That isn't what happens in the actual book. This doesn't stop it from taking place in modern professorial fictions.

Can we talk? Modern-day 12-year-old kids would be unlikely to find their footing in events like the ones we've described. Changing intellectual and societal frameworks have almost surely made Alcott's famous text hard to track in the present day.

This may explain why modern kids aren't rushing to read Little Women. That said, the famous book, with its famous characters, can still make a profitable movie, if you just change its characters, events and values all around, while pretending to do no such thing.

With that, Hooray for Hollywood and for its endless array of graspers, hustlers and climbers! Tinseltown has made major adaptations of Alcott's text in 1933, 1949, 1994 and 2019. Those adaptations survive.

Two earlier films, from 1917 and 1918, have apparently been lost. A 2018 film adaptation crashed and burned at the box office and among the bulk of the critics, to the extent that it was reviewed at all.

Along came Gerwig's 2019 adaptation. Within our flailing progressive world, the Greta Gerwig memorial t-shirt would perhaps say this:
I made the greatest Little Women yet and all I got was this lousy $225,000 gift bag!
Poor Gerwig! For whatever reason, rightly or wrongly, her film was largely passed over in the early awards season, both by the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild.

Given current tribal fictions, only one conclusion was possible—their misogyny had been showing. There followed a progressive stampede in support of the film which might be said to have run by this watchword:
No unfounded conclusion or logical bungle left behind!
How dumb is our modern progressive tribe—the tribe that is currently well on its way to losing the world to the disordered man our haplessness helped elect? This is how transplendently dumb we are and have been for a long time:

Right around Christmas time, three (3) men told the New York Times' Janet Maslin that they didn't want to see Gerwig's film. This touched off a wave of furious claims that "men" were avoiding the film.

(Hint: No film has ever been seen by all men. Also, no film has ever been seen by most men. Attendance by gender has always fluctuated based upon the subject matter of various films. Everyone understands such facts—everyone but us, Over Here, within our failing tribe.)

Rightly or wrongly, Little Women was getting scorched early on. But when Oscar nominations were announced, Gerwig's film was nominated for Best Picture. Also, Gerwig's chronologically jumbled script received a Best Screenplay nomination.

That said, Gerwig didn't receive a Best Director nomination. This "snub" was widely attributed to the Academy's sexism/misogyny, even though the same directors guild had nominated her for a Best Director Oscar just two years before.

Puzzling logic of this type would guide our stampede throughout. How outrageous was this obvious snub? With no inanity left behind, we were offered such logic as this:

We could tell that Gerwig had been snubbed for Best Director because her film had been nominated for Best Picture. We weren't told that nine films got Best Picture nominations this year, while the Academy only allows five nominations for Best Director.

We could tell that Gerwig had been snubbed for Best Director because her film had received six nominations in all. (Did the Academy think the film had directed itself?)

We weren't told that only one of the nine Best Picture films had received fewer nominations than Little Women's six. We weren't told that four of the Best Picture films had received ten or eleven noms.

We knew in our bones that this snub was a case of discrimination. We never saw anyone suggest an alternate possibility—the possibility that Gerwig, who became an official member of Hollywood royalty with Lady Bird, was being cut a break by critics and pundits because of her standing in Tinseltown.

Is it possible that Gerwig was actually being favored by critics and Tinseltown voters? Of course it is! With this, we direct you to A. O. Scott's review of the film for the New York Times.

As every critic found a way to do, Scott praised the chronological slicing-and-dicing which some viewers found quite confusing. ("It’s as if the book has been carefully cut apart and reassembled, its signatures sewn back together in an order that produces sparks of surprise and occasional bouts of pleasurable dizziness.")

Of course, one person's "pleasurable dizziness" is another's rank confusion. All three times that we've seen the film, we've been struck by how confusing it is. Then too, we've never had to issue an amusing correction like this:
Correction: Dec. 23, 2019
An earlier version of this review misidentified Beth as the youngest of the March sisters. The youngest is Amy, not Beth.
As we've noted before, we thought the casting added to the muddle. We thought the oldest sister looked like the youngest, and the youngest sister seemed like the oldest.

Scott may have been misled by the casting too! At any rate, like everyone else, Scott found a roundabout way to praise Gerwig's chronological jumbling. Perhaps in thrall to Hollywood's pecking order, he also offered this obvious nonsense:
SCOTT (12/23/19): Without resorting to self-conscious anachronism or fussy antiquarianism, Gerwig has fashioned a story that feels at once entirely true to its 19th-century origins and utterly modern.
According to Scott, the story Gerwig fashioned "feels entirely true to its 19th-century origins." And it's true—the story may feel that way to an upper-end reviewer who can't even identify the youngest sister is in a very old, very well-known story.

At any rate, the fact that the story feels that way doesn't mean that it is that way. Fawning to celebrity and bowing to power, Scott ignores the wholesale way Gerwig changes Alcott's story and values while retaining the commercial advantages conferred by the famous name of Alcott's book and the famous names of her characters.

Does Gerwig's story "feel entirely true to its 19th-century origins?" What suggestion could be more absurd? To cite one minor example:

As we've watched Gerwig's massively modernized film, we've missed the part of the story where Jo, true to her 19th century values, comes to admire Professor Bhaer because of the way he supports religious values in the face of assault from the swells.

In fairness, that's the tiniest alteration Gerwig makes to Alcott's famous text. Her most ridiculous alteration involved the statement her producer reported in an interview with the Times:

"You know we can’t actually have [Jo] marry Professor Bhaer,” Gerwig is said to have said.

We can't have her marry Bhaer! In the actual 19th century book, Jo does, in fact, marry Bhaer. They then open that school for those destitute children.

Gerwig doesn't just hurry past the school; true to her sillybill Tinseltown values, she even tries to obscure the marryin'! Instead, he has Jo publish a book, an event which doesn't occur in Alcott's original text, and she has her outfox a male editor to get the best business deal.

Along the way, Bhaer rudely criticizes her lurid tales—no, this doesn't occur in the book—and Jo hotly tells him where to shove it. That too doesn't occur in the book. In fact, Gerwig's whole film is a silly, cartoonized tale designed to give us "progressive" fanpersons a story so simple, so scripted and so tribally dumb and even we can follow it.

Plus, she casts a handsome hunk to be the professor. Yum!

For the record, one female director did win an Oscar this year for making a film about a school for destitute children. Predictably, no one has said a word about that. We'll tell you about it tomorrow.

Gerwig, a member of Tinseltown royalty, made a film which is quite different. Like Aaron Sorkin before her, she drafted behind the commercial advantage lurking within a famous title while making a tribally pleasing modern fairy tale.

She made the greatest Little Women yet and all she got was her bag of swag! Our tribe is now so hopeless, so empty, so dumb that we can spend several months having a breakdown about this horrible act of injustice conferred on a Tinseltown star.


Donald J. Trump is coming for Gerwig's status and values. Does a tribe as simple-minded and dumb as ours have any real chance of prevailing?

Tomorrow: Woman creates film about destitute kids! But who gives a fig about them?

Klobuchar-on-Buttigieg crime!


Extremely familiar behavior:
Last Friday night, six Democratic presidential candidates staged their New Hampshire debate.
At one point, Candidate Klobuchar saucily said this to Candidate Buttigieg:
KLOBUCHAR (2/7/20): We had a moment the last few weeks, Mayor. And that moment was these impeachment hearings. And there was a lot of courage that you saw from only a few people.

There was courage from Doug Jones, our friend from Alabama, who took that tough vote. There was courage from Mitt Romney, who took a very, very difficult vote. There was courage, as I read today, about Lt. Col. Vindman being escorted out of the White House.

What he did took courage. But what you said, Pete, as you were campaigning through Iowa—as three of us were jurors in that impeachment hearing—you said it was exhausting to watch and that you wanted to turn the channel and watch cartoons.

It is easy to go after Washington because that’s a popular thing to do.
It is much harder—as I see Senator [Jeanne] Shaheen in the front row, such a leader—it is much harder to lead, and much harder to take those difficult positions.

Because I think this going after every single thing that people do, because it’s popular to say and makes you look like a cool newcomer—I just, I don’t think that’s what people want right now. We have a newcomer in the White House, and look where it got us.
Imagine! Buttigieg has been trying to look just as cool as a newcomer!

As so many others were showing their courage; as Klobuchar was valiantly doing her job; Buttigieg was parading around the state of Iowa, knocking Washington and saying he'd rather watch cartoons than the impeachment trial!

He was doing the popular thing while Klobuchar was doing her job!

We were puzzled by Klobuchar's presentation as we watched the debate that night. As you can see in minute 28 of this tape, Buttigieg raised his hand, seeking recognition, when he was criticized. But George Stephanopoulos went elsewhere, and Klobuchar's peculiar statement was never addressed.

Poor Klobuchar! As she was doing her duty in Washington, Buttigieg was parading around Iowa saying he'd rather watch cartoons. Except that isn't what Buttigieg said, according to this report by Slate's William Saletan.

As we've noted before, Klobuchar's apparent loathing of Buttigieg has been disappointing. That said, if we might borrow from The Last Picture Show, we've been writing about this kind of trashy behavior for the past twenty-five years.

Most dramatically, Candidate Gore was mugged in similar ways, for quite a few years, by the vast bulk of the mainstream press corps. His remarks were endlessly paraphrased in endlessly ridiculous ways. This went on for twenty straight months before November 2000, and then for quite a few years after that.

As we watched the debate that night, we found it hard to believe that Buttigieg had made the stupid statement Klobuchar put in his mouth. Aside from that, we thought Klobuchar was quite good that night.

It looks like Buttigieg actually didn't make those stupid remarks! But go ahead—read Saletan's report. We've been writing about behavior like this for the past many long years.

From The Last Picture Show: Here's Ben Johnson, scolding the kids in 1971. They'd been mistreating a mentally challenged kid. Finally, Johnson says this:
Now you boys can get on out of here. I don't want to have no more to do with you.

Scaring a poor, unfortunate creature like Billy just so you could have a few laughs. I've been around that trashy behavior all my life. I'm getting tired of putting up with it.

Now you can stay out of this pool hall, out of my café and my picture show too. I don't want no more of your business.
You can watch the scene here. We well remember the first time we saw it.

Don't get us wrong! We could end up voting for Klobuchar in the primary; we'd definitely vote for her in the general. But just how badly does she want the nomination?

Somebody ought to ask.

Full disclosure: We used to write reports like Saletan's. After more than twenty years, we realized there was no point.

Anthropologists contacted us at that point. They offered some fresh new ideas.

THE RATIONAL ANIMAL'S FICTIONS: Sorkin, Matteson run off the rails!


The Atlantic speaks up, though too late:
Was man [sic] ever "the rational animal," as we've long been told?

In recent months, The Atlantic has bravely begin to challenge the ancient dogma. In our view, attention ought to be paid.

First, the journal published a strikingly strange discussion involving its own David Sims and the well-known Aaron Sorkin. The discussion concerned Sorkin's Broadway "adaptation" of Harper Lee's well-known novel, To Kill A Mockingbird.

Strangely, Sorkin and Sims excitedly claimed that the famous novel ends with a murder—the murder of Bob Ewell. Since you'll assume that we're making that up, we'll again post the passage in question.

This is what the fellows said. The bracketed material is all found in the original:
SIMS (12/17/19): I had forgotten that To Kill a Mockingbird also ends with a crime—the [murder] of Bob Ewell [by Boo Radley, trying to protect Scout]—being covered up!

SORKIN: Isn’t it amazing? I had forgotten about it too, and I couldn’t believe it!

SIMS: It’s a story about the greatest lawyer of all time—Atticus—and he’s complicit in this crime!

SORKIN: This novel ends with, as Scout said, “the most honest and decent person in Maycomb” covering up murder with a judge and a sheriff. Why didn’t that ever come up in my eighth-grade class? I saw that and thought, Well, I can tell this exact same story...
According to Sorkin, Lee's novel ends with Atticus Finch covering up a murder with a judge and a sheriff. Excitedly, Sims agrees with this extremely peculiar reading.

You have to be on the crazy juice to read Lee's novel that way. To its credit, The Atlantic was willing to print that instructive exchange.

And then, just two weeks later, the magazine did it again! The Atlantic published an essay by Professor Matteson in which the Pulitzer-winning Alcott biographer inexplicably told readers this:
MATTESON (1/1/20): ...A considerable source of pain in Alcott’s world is the disapproving masculine gaze, so often clad in the guise of moral judgment, that can bruise a woman’s self-esteem and steal her self-expression.

Alcott’s novel presents two powerful instances of such criticism. Laurie chides Meg for her attire at a party, which she considers beautiful and he deems immodest; and Professor Bhaer arraigns Jo for publishing lurid stories that he regards as a waste of her talent and that he fears will subvert her readers’ morals. In the novel, these scenes occur far apart, with no obvious linkage. Gerwig has heard the similarities between them; her film makes the two moments rhyme thematically and lingers on the hurt and indignation that the two men heedlessly cause.

What makes Gerwig’s take so notable is that she sees both sides of the situation with equal conviction. Laurie and Bhaer speak in good faith, yet are largely oblivious to the depth of the pain they are causing...
According to Matteson, Alcott's novel includes a "powerful" episode in which Professor Bhaer "arraigns Jo" for "publishing lurid stories." (In the language of the era, these lurid tales are referred to in the book as "sensation stories.")

According to Matteson, Professor Bhaer "heedlessly causes" "hurt and indignation" by subjecting Jo to the "disapproving masculine gaze" in this way. According to Matteson, Professor Bhaer is "largely oblivious to the depth of the pain" he has caused. He seems to have bruised Jo's self-esteem and stolen her self-expression by his heedless behavior.

So Professor Matteson wrote in this sequel to the peculiar Sorkin-Sims exchange. In fact, nothing dimly like that actually occurs in the relevant chapter in Alcott's book, Chapter 34.

There is no indignation on Jo's part. It's clear that Jo agrees with the professor's assessments. It's clear that she already held the views in question before the professor spoke—and no, the professor has never read any of Jo's stories.

In truth, Matteson's account of Alcott's text may be even nuttier than the Sorkin/Sims account of Lee's widely-read novel. What has become of the "rational animal" we were long rumored to be?

We salute The Atlantic for raising this important question, even if the magazine's intercession comes many years too late. According to experts, these peculiar accounts of these famous novels illustrate the truth about our flailing, war-inclined species:

We humans were never "the rational animal" at all, these highly credentialed scholars despondently insist. Instead, we were always the tribal animal, these future anthropologists say—the creature that ran on standard group "fictions" (Professor Harari), on novelized tribal tales.

According to these future scholars, this wiring has always provided the type of fuel which powered the recent strange accounts published by The Atlantic. To see how deep this wiring runs, let's set the popularizer Sorkin aside and focus instead on Matteson.

By any normal standard, Matteson is a fully credentialed thought leader. The leading authority on his life provides this overview:
John Matteson (born March 3, 1961) is an American professor of English and legal writing at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography for his first book, Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father.

Born in San Mateo, California, Matteson is the son of Thomas D. Matteson (1920–2011), an airline executive jointly responsible for developing the theory of reliability-centered maintenance, and Rosemary H. Matteson (1920–2010), who worked as a commercial artist before becoming a homemaker.

...[Matteson] earned an A.B. in history from Princeton University in 1983, a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1986, and a Ph.D. in English from Columbia University in 1999...He has written articles for a wide variety of publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New England Quarterly, Streams of William James, and Leviathan...His annotated edition of Little Women was published in November 2015.

Matteson is a former treasurer of the Melville Society and is a member of the Louisa May Alcott Society's advisory board.
Full disclosure! We were an eighth-grader in San Mateo on the very day the professor was born. On that basis, we find ourselves recalling the words of noble Nestor, the seasoned charioteer, as he addresses the headstrong Diomedes not far from the walls of Troy. Homer jotted them down:
THE ILIAD: Few can match your power in battle, Diomedes,
and in council you excel all men your age
But you don't press on and reach a useful end.
How young you are—why, you could be my son,
my youngest-born at that, though you urge our kings
with cool clear sense: what you've said is right.
But it's my turn now, Diomedes.
I think I can claim to have some years on you.
So I must speak up and drive the matter home.
Except for the part about being right, that's what we thought when we read Professor Matteson's recent peculiar account.

According to the acknowledge experts with whom we now routinely consult in the early morning hours, Matteson's account of Alcott's text is a perfect example of the power of tribal script.

He's telling the story in such a way as to conform to prevailing mandated tribal narrative. In fairness, he's also telling the story as it unfolds in Greta Gerwig's widely-praised "adaptation" of Alcott's extremely old novel—an adaptation which changes all kinds of events to make a commercially viable novel conform to modern tribal tastes.

No, Cassandra, daughter of Hecuba and Priam! There is no "indignation" on Jo's part in the relevant part of Alcott's novel. In the actual novel, Professor Bhaer doesn't "arraign" Jo in the oddly blunt way we see in Gerwig's film.

Jo doesn't indignantly tell the professor off, as Gerwig has her pleasingly do. And the pair don't part on bad terms. As they part, Jo is hoping that he will be her friend for the rest of her life.

Matteson is describing events which occur in Gerwig's film. Plainly, he isn't describing what happens in Alcott's actual novel. Beyond that, you'd pretty much have to be out of your head to think that Harper Lee's famous novel ends in the ridiculous way Sorkin and Sims excitedly describe.

Why in the world are these ranking figures offering such peculiar accounts? We'll try to finish our story tomorrow, though we're willing to say this today:

Ridiculous conduct of this type has rarely ended well. At long last, The Atlantic has started to sound an alarm. Experts say the magazine's efforts are coming much too late.

Tomorrow: A remarkable, chastening episode of the past several months

Merrily we get snubbed along!


What the Hollywood Hills can be found in a word?
Who should have been nominated for Best Director this year?

Like most people you see discussing this question, we have no earthly idea. That said, we do have a thought about this headline, which ran at Slate:
Natalie Portman’s Oscar Cape Was Embroidered With the Names of Eight Female Directors the Academy Snubbed This Year
By MATTHEW DESSEM / FEB 09, 2020 9:09 PM
Did the Academy really "snub" eight female directors this year? We ask because the Academy only gives five Best Director nominations in all.

Can you really "snub" eight people if only five slots are available? In Dessem's transplendently scripted piece—it's the kind of piece which writes itself—he listed the eight snubbed directors, along with the films for which they were snubbed:
The eight snubbed directors:
• Lorene Scafaria, Hustlers
• Lulu Wang, The Farewell
• Greta Gerwig, Little Women
• Mati Diop, Atlantics
• Marielle Heller, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
• Melina Matsoukas, Queen & Slim
• Alma Har’el, Honey Boy
• Céline Sciamma, Portrait of a Lady on Fire
We've only seen one of those films. We thought it had several major problems, but others disagreed. It was very favorably reviewed.

That said, some other films on that list of eight weren't gigantically well reviewed. At Metacritic, Atlantics and Hustlers were rated as the 24th and 25th best reviewed films of the year, according to the site's subjective rating system.

Queen & Slim, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and Honey Boy didn't rank that high. As you can see in Metacritic's compilation, very few critics, male or female, put these films on their "ten best" lists.

All eight films were professional films, directed by professional directors. But does it really make sense to issue one of our typical bleating headlines saying these people got "snubbed?"

Our liberal/pseudo-progressive world is awash in Grievance Culture. Complaints about discrimination (and about "snubs") have become sacramental.

Such complaints are now widely said to be our failing tribe's only toy. We rarely leave the playroom without it, according to expert scholars who serve as top figureheads.

Just on a semantic basis, can you really "snub" eight people if only five slots are available for honors? As his automatic writing ended, Dessem wasn't worrying about that:
DESSEM (2/9/20): Whether you share Portman’s anger at the Academy overlooking so much great work this year, or aren’t too worried about it (presumably because you didn’t see any of these movies), Portman has laid out a pretty good alternative guide to the year in film. Happy viewing!
Can you "overlook" eight films if only five slots are available? Inquiring minds want to know! What the hills are alive with music can be found in a word?

This sort of thing has become sacramental within our deeply scripted tribe. This often makes us look dumb to The Others. Sometimes, The Others may not be totally wrong.

THE RATIONAL ANIMAL'S FICTIONS: Professor Matteson feels Jo's pain!


Though Jo didn't feel it herself:
Anthropologists frequently pose the question, most often at 2 in the morning:

Were we humans—we so-called rational animals—ever really rational in our essence? Or was it just a succession of tribal fictions—scripted narrative all the way down?

In fairness to these future experts, they always draw a firm distinction between matters of technology and engineering as opposed to everything else. Early last month, they called our attention to Professor Matteson's essay in The Atlantic.

Frankly, how apt! Two weeks before that piece appeared, The Atlantic's David Sims had published a crackpot conversation with Aaron Sorkin, in which the two men reached several strange points of agreement.

Most strangely, the fellows agreed that Harper Lee's famous novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, ends with Atticus Finch covering up a murder—the murder of Bob Ewell! Stating the obvious, you'd pretty much have to be out of your mind to read the book that way.

(Earlier, it had been even stranger. In an essay in New York magazine, Sorkin had actually said that Lee's fictional Atticus Finch "believes in the fundamental goodness in everyone, even homicidal white supremacists." Sorkin quickly linked this very strange claim to Donald J. Trump's famous statement about there being "fine people on both sides." So it goes when the rational animal, at times of tribal agitation, sets out on the prowl.)

Sims and Sorkin voiced that strange belief about Atticus Finch on December 17. Two weeks later, Professor Matteson's piece appeared, in which he discussed Little Women.

Is the rational animal ever rational? Or is it always tribal script—narrative all the way down?

We can't answer your sensible question. But Professor Matteson, a Pulitzer-winning Alcott biographer, strangely told readers this:
MATTESON (1/1/20): Among children’s classics, Little Women is virtually unique in its lack of a personified villain. The prevalent reading of the novel is that the chief evil that must be fought and subdued is the flaw in each character’s own breast, whether Jo’s temper, Laurie’s laziness, or Beth’s shyness. While these inner struggles are amply addressed in the film, Gerwig convincingly proposes an alternative reading: A considerable source of pain in Alcott’s world is the disapproving masculine gaze, so often clad in the guise of moral judgment, that can bruise a woman’s self-esteem and steal her self-expression.

Alcott’s novel presents two powerful instances of such criticism. Laurie chides Meg for her attire at a party, which she considers beautiful and he deems immodest; and Professor Bhaer arraigns Jo for publishing lurid stories that he regards as a waste of her talent and that he fears will subvert her readers’ morals. In the novel, these scenes occur far apart, with no obvious linkage. Gerwig has heard the similarities between them; her film makes the two moments rhyme thematically and lingers on the hurt and indignation that the two men heedlessly cause.

What makes Gerwig’s take so notable is that she sees both sides of the situation with equal conviction. Laurie and Bhaer speak in good faith, yet are largely oblivious to the depth of the pain they are causing...
Forget the episode involving Laurie. Let's focus on Professor Bhaer, and on the power of script.

According to the real-life Professor Matteson, the fictional Professor Bhaer causes a great deal of pain in Alcott's novel. It happens when he "arraigns Jo for publishing lurid stories."

According to Matteson, the fictional Bhaer "heedlessly" causes a great deal of "hurt and indignation" when he exposes Jo to "the disapproving masculine gaze" in this manner. He's said to be "largely oblivious to the depth of the pain" he has caused. The professor bruises Jo's self-esteem and steals her self-expression.

In fairness to Professor Bhaer, at least he hasn't been accused of covering up a murder. In fairness to Professor Matteson, he gives a fairly accurate account of a set of events which occur in Greta Gerwig's "adaptation" of the Alcott book.

That said, these events don't occur in Louisa May Alcott's famous novel, which Matteson has presumably read.

Given his status as a Pulitzer-winning Alcott biographer, it's hard to believe that Professor Matteson hasn't read Alcott's actual book. Has his understanding been swept away by the narratives of the moment?

In Alcott's actual book, does Professor Bhaer engage in the hurtful conduct the real professor describes? Does he heedlessly cause hurt and indignation by arraigning Jo? Is he oblivious to the depth of the pain he has caused?

Sadly, no, that doesn't occur in Alcott's actual book.

That reinvented set of events is offered for our tribal pleasure in Gerwig's "updated" film. But a very different set of events and reactions unfolds in Alcott's actual novel. You can see this by forcing yourself to read Chapters 33 and 34 of her very old book.

In Alcott's actual book, Professor Bhaer never reads any of Jo's "sensation stories." He does tell her, at one point, that he disapproves of this tabloidy genre as a general matter, but it's already perfectly clear that Jo holds the same general view.

What's up with Jo's "sensation stories?" This is the way the scene is set at the start of Chapter 34, with Jo now working as a governess in New York City:
ALCOTT (chapter 34): Though very happy in the social atmosphere about her, and very busy with the daily work that earned her bread and made it sweeter for the effort, Jo still found time for literary labors. The purpose which now took possession of her was a natural one to a poor and ambitious girl, but the means she took to gain her end were not the best. She saw that money conferred power, money and power, therefore, she resolved to have, not to be used for herself alone, but for those whom she loved more than life. The dream of filling home with comforts, giving Beth everything she wanted, from strawberries in winter to an organ in her bedroom, going abroad herself, and always having more than enough, so that she might indulge in the luxury of charity, had been for years Jo's most cherished castle in the air.

The prize-story experience had seemed to open a way which might, after long traveling and much uphill work, lead to this delightful chateau en Espagne. But the novel disaster quenched her courage for a time, for public opinion is a giant which has frightened stouter-hearted Jacks on bigger beanstalks than hers. Like that immortal hero, she reposed awhile after the first attempt, which resulted in a tumble and the least lovely of the giant's treasures, if I remember rightly. But the "up again and take another" spirit was as strong in Jo as in Jack, so she scrambled up on the shady side this time and got more booty, but nearly left behind her what was far more precious than the moneybags.

She took to writing sensation stories, for in those dark ages, even all-perfect America read rubbish.
She told no one, but concocted a "thrilling tale", and boldly carried it herself to Mr. Dashwood, editor of the Weekly Volcano.
According to Alcott's text, Jo March had taken to writing rubbish in pursuit of money and power.

In our own modern times, many people who "adapt" famous texts are, of course, perhaps engaged in the same general pursuit. But it's clear in Alcott's text that Jo feels or knows that she shouldn't be producing such tabloidy "rubbish," and Alcott's narrator directly says the same thing.

If you fight your way through the whole of Chapter 34, you'll see the repeated appearance of questions concerning Jo's "conscience." In fact, Jo shares the professor's view of these tabloidy "sensation stories." She also knows that her parents wouldn't approve of such efforts.

As the chapter unfolds, Jo's regard for Professor Bhaer continues to grow. Things are quite different in Gerwig's film, where he rather rudely tells Jo that he disapproves of her stories.

Hotly, Jo tells the professor off. Instantly, she's called back to Concord, where her sister Beth has taken a turn for the worse.

These exciting modernized events don't occur in Alcott's book.

In Alcott's actual book, Jo goes to her room and burns her "rubbish" stories after her conversation with Professor Bhaer. But she isn't angry with Professor Bhaer; she agrees with his general assessment of "sensation stories:"
ALCOTT: [W]hen nothing remained of all her three month's work except a heap of ashes and the money in her lap, Jo looked sober, as she sat on the floor, wondering what she ought to do about her wages.

"I think I haven't done much harm yet, and may keep this to pay for my time," she said, after a long meditation, adding impatiently, "I almost wish I hadn't any conscience, it's so inconvenient. If I didn't care about doing right, and didn't feel uncomfortable when doing wrong, I should get on capitally. I can't help wishing sometimes, that Mother and Father hadn't been so particular about such things."

Ah, Jo, instead of wishing that, thank God that 'Father and Mother were particular', and pity from your heart those who have no such guardians
to hedge them round with principles which may seem like prison walls to impatient youth, but which will prove sure foundations to build character upon in womanhood.
Do you see any "indignation" there? We can't spot it either!

In fact, Jo agrees with Professor Bhaer's view, and so does Alcott's narrator. For ourselves, Jo's repeated thoughts about "conscience" recall the great female-oriented undercard in On the Waterfront, in which the Marlon Brando character rails against the Eva Marie Saint character's constant references to conscience, even after he has come to see 1) that she is a better person than he is, and 2) that he wants to be more like her.

In Gerwig's film, Jo thrillingly tells the professor off, and the pair part on bad terms. That isn't what happens in Alcott's book.

In Alcott's book, the professor continues to "help [Jo] in many ways, proving himself a true friend, and Jo was happy, for while her pen lay idle, she was learning other lessons besides German, and laying a foundation for the sensation story of her own life."

When Jo finally leaves for home, the professor is dreaming that he might some day win her love. She hasn't yet discovered the depth of her own feeling for him—it's skillfully signaled through both New York chapters—but Chapter 34 ends like this:
ALCOTT: Early as it was, he was at the station next morning to see Jo off, and thanks to him, she began her solitary journey with the pleasant memory of a familiar face smiling its farewell, a bunch of violets to keep her company, and best of all, the happy thought, "Well, the winter's gone, and I've written no books, earned no fortune, but I've made a friend worth having and I'll try to keep him all my life."
Professor B's in love. She still isn't—or, at the very least, it hasn't quite dawned on her yet.

In Gerwig's film, Jo angrily tells the professor off, then goes away on bad terms. According to leading experts, some people engage in such "adaptations"—produce such modernized "sensation stories"—in their own search for money and power!

This brings us back to Professor Matteson's odd presentation in The Atlantic. As with Sorkin, so too here, or so some experts have said.

At times of major tribal stress, tribal stories take control, these future experts have told us. Clear vision tends to disappear. It's replaced by the mandates of scripted tribal tales, leaving us with "narrative all the way down."

Atticus Finch is involved in a murder! And not only that—Professor Bhaer has heedlessly bruised Jo's self-esteem! Plus, the fellow is too fat, a key perspective we're able to gain at Vox.

"The human mind was wired this way," future experts have said. "This sort of thing rarely ended well," they've often despondently added.

Tomorrow: Toy story

Two different yet similar partings: When Jo finally leaves New York, it could be imagined that she's unaware of her actual feelings.

Professor Bhaer is plainly in love. It seems that Jo still isn't:
ALCOTT: Early as it was, he was at the station next morning to see Jo off, and thanks to him, she began her solitary journey with the pleasant memory of a familiar face smiling its farewell, a bunch of violets to keep her company, and best of all, the happy thought, "Well, the winter's gone, and I've written no books, earned no fortune, but I've made a friend worth having and I'll try to keep him all my life."
So Chapter 34 ends. We think of a certain lady's departure from Yalta in The Lady With the Lapdog, Chekhov's famous story.

Gurov will discover later that he's in love with the lady. But as her train leaves him behind, he still doesn't know this:
CHEKHOV: The train moved off rapidly, its lights soon vanished from sight, and a minute later there was no sound of it, as though everything had conspired together to end as quickly as possible that sweet delirium, that madness. Left alone on the platform, and gazing into the dark distance, Gurov listened to the chirrup of the grasshoppers and the hum of the telegraph wires, feeling as though he had only just waked up. And he thought, musing, that there had been another episode or adventure in his life, and it, too, was at an end, and nothing was left of it but a memory. He was moved, sad, and conscious of a slight remorse. This young woman whom he would never meet again had not been happy with him; he was genuinely warm and affectionate with her, but yet in his manner, his tone, and his caresses there had been a shade of light irony, the coarse condescension of a happy man who was, besides, almost twice her age. All the time she had called him kind, exceptional, lofty; obviously he had seemed to her different from what he really was, so he had unintentionally deceived her.

Here at the station was already a scent of autumn; it was a cold evening.

"It's time for me to go north," thought Gurov as he left the platform. "High time!"
So ends one part of the story. Later, the truth would emerge, within. Two different, quite similar partings.

There's no business like show business!


Or like show business punditry:
Was Parasite the best film of 2019?

We have no idea. Objectively, since there's really no such thing as a "best film" of any year, we'd say the answer is probably no.

What was last year'a best film? Such claims are wholly subjective.

On the other hand, some claims about major films almost seem to be evidence-based. Consider A. O. Scott's claims in this morning's New York Times about Parasite's amazing popularity with adoring audiences.

Scott was chatting with his fellow Times critics, Manohla Dargis and Wesley Morris. Few groups of narrators are more reliably unreliable. Along the way, Scott offered these gushing remarks about the current it-film:
SCOTT (2/11/20): Of course the triumph of “Parasite” goes beyond those precedents, but in other ways it’s an almost ideal Oscar movie. Admired by critics and adored by audiences. A box office hit all over the world. A wonderfully entertaining movie that tackles serious issues.


How can the [Oscar telecast] continue to attract a global audience? By focusing on the big-budget, IP-driven franchise movies that are Hollywood’s leading global export? That has been an obvious, dreary answer for quite some time, but “Parasite” suggests a different one. There’s a whole world of movies out there—exciting, surprising, popular movies—that deserve audiences and accolades in America.(Scott's italics)
There is no question that Parasite is widely "admired by critics." According to this compilation by Metacritic, it seems to have been the best reviewed film last year—indeed, the best reviewed film by far.

Parasite was picked as the year's best film by 77 of the critics monitored by Metacritic. Once Upon A Time in Hollywood finished second, with 38 "best film" picks.

Plainly, Parasite was widely "admired by critics." But has it been "adored by audiences?" Has it been a "popular" "box office hit all over the world?"

We don't know why Scott would make those gushing statements. Here's what the leading authority on Parasite says about its box office receipts as of the night of its Oscar win:
As of 9 February 2020, Parasite has grossed $35.5 million in the United States and Canada, and $132.1 million in other territories (including $72 million from South Korea), for a worldwide total of $167.6 million.
$35.5 million in the U.S. and Canada? Especially given the critical acclaim the film received, that isn't giant box office.

According to Box Office Mojo
, Parasite ranked #98 in box office receipts for 2019 as of New Year's Day 2020, following an October 11 release. At that time, it was poised between such giant hits as (the well-reviewed) Booksmart and Stuber—two other films which didn't bring in major bucks.

What does a box office hit really look like? Depending on what we're comparing to what, we'll show you where domestic receipts stand, at present, for some of last year'a films.

All data come from Box Office Mojo. We're leaving out quite a few of the year's biggest box office hits:
Domestic box office receipts, selected 2019 films:

Avengers Endgame: $858.4 million
The Lion King: $543.6 million
Star Wars Episode 9: $510.6 million
Captain Marvel: $426.8 million

Spider-Man Far from Home: $390.5 million
Joker: $335.2 million
Jumanji The Next Level: $298.5 million

Us: $175.1 million
Knives Out: $159.0 million
Once Upon A Time in Hollywood: $142.4 million
1917: $132.8 million
Ford v. Ferrari: $116.3 million
Hustlers: $105.0 million
Little Women: $102.7 million

Parasite: $35.5 million
Especially given the rave reviews, does Parasite look like a popular box office hit, one which has been adored by audiences here in the U.S.?

Parasite's domestic receipts will grow because of its Oscar win. We're not sure how many of those new attendees will actually like the widely praised film. That said, it simply wasn't "adored by audiences" or a "box office hit all over the world" as of last Sunday night.

Why did A. O. Scott say those things in this morning's Times? Did we mention the fact that he's a critic for the New York Times, whose critics may well be the planet's least reliable narrators?

Tomorrow, we'll offer one of our favorite Oscar pundit corrections of the past year—the correction which is appended to Scott's review of Little Women.

Needless to say, Scott loved the film, as was required by Hard Pundit Law. His overall assessment was, of course, a matter of judgment.

We thought the error he had to correct inserted a bit of unintentional humor into the year's widespread foolishness. It also may seem to go to a possible shortcoming with the viciously snubbed master film.

Without any question, Parasite has been hugely admired by critics. It hasn't yet been a box office hit, except in the New York Times, a place where everyone knows your name if you've been anointed, and a place where everything's possible.

THE RATIONAL ANIMAL'S FICTIONS: Professor Matteson's peculiar remark!


"De gustibus non est disputandum!" We believe Abraham Lincoln said that.

We thought of Lincoln's famous remark on Monday evening, January 6, 2020.

Shortly after 10 PM Eastern, Rachel was performing her "throw" to Lawrence. Candidate Castro had dropped out of the White House race, and he'd now endorsed Candidate Warren.

As the pair of cable friends chatted, Lawrence offered explosive remarks, with Rachel voicing agreement:
LAWRENCE (1/6/20): The one thing I was not surprised by was this particular endorsement, because knowing that they are all, except one, eventually going to drop out, and knowing that this is one of the most impressive groups of Democrat presidential candidates I've ever seen–


LAWRENCE: My favorite question, actually, for all of them who come on the show, "What is the most interesting thing you've heard, best thing you've heard from one of the other candidates?"

RACHEL: That's very smart.
We won't make you read any more of the mandated friendly agreement. That said, Lawrence actually said it, and Rachel seemed to agree:

"This is one of the most impressive groups of Democrat presidential candidates I've ever seen."

Warning sirens began to wail in our sumptuous underground apartments as our youthful analysts started to cry. "That was a subjective judgment—almost a matter of taste," we quickly and thoughtfully told them.

Does Lawrence really think that this is one of the most impressive groups of Democrat candidates he has ever seen? Does Rachel really agree with him?

We don't know how to answer your questions. But everything is possible, and it always will be!

Our own view is somewhat different. We think this is a god-awful collection of amazingly beatable candidates.

That doesn't mean that one of these candidates might not reach the White House. But when we watched the bulk of last Friday night's debate, we were struck by how amazingly beatable these unlikely candidates seem.

Two front-runners are way too old; one is way too young. Another spent several decades claiming to be an American Indian.

That leaves Candidate Klobuchar, coming up on the outside, but lacking the kind of "charisma" (or "command presence") normally associated with candidates who manage to win.

(Candidate Yang still wants to give everyone $1000. That's $1000 per month!)

We think this collection of candidates is preternaturally awful. Still and all, that's a matter of judgment. Others may have different views.

On MSNBC, we're still being told how "exciting" and how "historic" recent events have been. It may be that Rachel's just selling the car, or it could be that she really believes this.

We bring to this the wisdom we're gaining from our recent exchanges with a group of future ancients. Future Anthropologists Huddled in Caves, a group of despondent future scholars, keep telling us that our society's ongoing headlong decline is simply a matter of anthropology—of the insufficient wiring of the human brain.

When it came to maintaining a modern society, we simply weren't up to the task! So these despondent future experts insist on saying, through the peculiar nocturnal submissions the haters refer to as dreams.

Has modern punditry utterly failed? Just yesterday, we took you back some twenty years, to the day when Don Imus—and Lesley stahl—made absolute fools of themselves as they tried to discuss the workings of the Iowa caucuses.

A remarkable set of pundit stampedes were underway at that time. In the last few months, we've seen a similar burst in the remarkable Scripted Group Punditry concerning last Sunday night's Oscars.

Future ancients tells us this about the highly scripted punditry we've heard. Given the way the human brain was wired, discussion of even the most worthy topics was destined to be performed in the dumbest possible manner.

Is it possible that this gloomy anthropological claim is actually correct? Tomorrow, we'll turn to a strange claim by Professor Matteson, a claim advanced in The Atlantic in a discussion of Greta Gerwig's very badly snubbed film:
MATTESON (1/1/20): Among children’s classics, Little Women is virtually unique in its lack of a personified villain. The prevalent reading of the novel is that the chief evil that must be fought and subdued is the flaw in each character’s own breast, whether Jo’s temper, Laurie’s laziness, or Beth’s shyness. While these inner struggles are amply addressed in the film, Gerwig convincingly proposes an alternative reading: A considerable source of pain in Alcott’s world is the disapproving masculine gaze, so often clad in the guise of moral judgment, that can bruise a woman’s self-esteem and steal her self-expression.

Alcott’s novel presents two powerful instances of such criticism. Laurie chides Meg for her attire at a party, which she considers beautiful and he deems immodest; and Professor Bhaer arraigns Jo for publishing lurid stories that he regards as a waste of her talent and that he fears will subvert her readers’ morals. In the novel, these scenes occur far apart, with no obvious linkage. Gerwig has heard the similarities between them; her film makes the two moments rhyme thematically and lingers on the hurt and indignation that the two men heedlessly cause.

What makes Gerwig’s take so notable is that she sees both sides of the situation with equal conviction. Laurie and Bhaer speak in good faith, yet are largely oblivious to the depth of the pain they are causing...
All hail the badly snubbed Gerwig! According to Professor Matteson, she managed to find a reading of Louisa May Alcott's famous though widely unread book which lets us recite a favored claim about "the masculine gaze."

According to the leading authority, Professor Matteson "won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography for his first book, Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father."

On that basis, we feel sure that Professor Matteson has actually read Alcott's book. For that reason, we were puzzled by his account of the deep pain his fictional colleague, Professor Bhaer, is said to cause in the fictional episode to which he refers.

In search of the depth of the pain to which the actual professor alludes, we've searched and searched through the relevant chapter in Alcott's famous book.

We've found no such occurrence there. Experts claim that Professor Matteson has himself created a "fiction."

In his perpetually best-selling book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Professor Harari says that our war-inclined species, Homo sapiens, conquered all other human species because, though a set of chance mutations, we attained the ability to engage in "gossip" and to concoct, repeat and march to battle under standard group "fictions."

So it has been in the past few months. So it was in the fall of 1999, when some of the most consequential modern group fictions were being shouted from the rooftops by people like Lawrence, Chris and Maureen, supported by a cast of thousands.

No good deed ever goes unpunished! Also, even the most worthwhile values will be pursued in the dumbest possible way!

This is what the future ancients insist on despondently saying. The Oscar punditry of the past few months has struck us as a truly remarkable example of this future ancient wisdom.

It's all anthropology now! Or so these future scholars say. We're just along for the ride.

Tomorrow: Did Alcott have room for the pain?

Once upon a time...in Iowa with Don Imus!


Iowa caucuses explained:
Long ago and far away, Don Imus tried to explain the Iowa caucuses.

It was January 2000. Candidate Gore had just vanquished Candidate Bradley in the Hawkeye State.

Imus, who was huge at the time, had no earthly idea how the Iowa caucuses worked. Adhering to the rules of the game, he fell to belittling Gore.

Leslie Stahl came on as a guest; she was clueless too. Our big stars have always been like this! This wholly inescapable fact helps explain how we got here.

To enjoy our own award-winning consistency, you can just click here. Scroll down to these immortal words:

"Clueless in the morning"

BREAKING: Why did black voter turnout decline?


Princeton professor tries to explain in the New York Times:
Has the liberal intelligentsia ever been so unable to function?

We've been seeing it in the heavily scripted Oscar commentary of the past few weeks. We've been seeing it in the remarkably unhelpful election punditry.

Tomorrow, we'll return to full-time discussion of this existential dilemma. For today, consider what happened when the New York Times published the opinion column by the Princeton professor.

The professor sought to explain a deeply puzzling point. She sought to explain the decline in black voter turnout in the last presidential election.

According to the essay's headline, the Princeton professor blamed the decline on Barack Obama's "failure to deliver major changes." Sadly but typically, the column started like this:
TAYLOR (2/8/20): The sting of Hillary Clinton’s defeat in 2016 still hangs heavy over the Democratic Party. There has yet to emerge a consensus understanding of the party’s failure to beat an opponent who almost everyone assumed could be defeated. Some have focused on voter suppression, others on Russian interference. Mrs. Clinton continues to blame Bernie Sanders. But missing from the various theories is how Barack Obama’s tenure may also have contributed to voter disaffection because he failed to bring about the transformational changes he promised.

The dramatic contrast between him and his successor, Donald Trump, has, in some ways, created pressure on Democrats to focus only on Mr. Trump’s transgressions while ignoring other factors that may have contributed to his election. As the primary campaign ramped up last summer, for example, party insiders made clear they would vigorously challenge any scrutiny of Mr. Obama’s presidency. “Stay away from Barack Obama,” one said. A former aide to Mr. Obama, Neera Tanden, wrote on Twitter that Democratic candidates who “attack Obama are wrong and terrible.” She added, “Obama wasn’t perfect, but, come on, people, next to Trump, he kind of is.”

The perception of the “perfect Obama” is contradicted by black voter turnout in 2016: It declined for the first time in 20 years, falling to 60 percent from 67 percent in 2012. This surely cannot be attributed only to voter suppression or the lack of an African-American candidate on the ticket—after all, Mr. Obama framed Mrs. Clinton’s run as his so-called third term. It’s safe to presume that disillusionment with Mr. Obama’s record, even as people continued to admire him personally, is, to some degree, reflected in these turnout figures.
According to the Princeton professor, black voter turnout declined from 67 percent in 2012 to 60 percent in 2016. We're then told this:

"It's safe to presume that disillusionment with Mr. Obama’s record...is, to some degree, reflected in these turnout figures."

Is it safe to make that presumption? Obviously, yes, it is! It's safe to presume that any number of factors "are reflected," to some degree, in the decline in black turnout.

The key words there—"to some degree"—make this claim almost completely pointless. That said, we were struck by the professor's failure to offer a more complete set of data concerning black turnout.

An obvious question popped into our heads—what was black turnout like before Barack Obama was the Democratic nominee? Using the same census data she used, this is what black turnout looked like in the last four White House elections:
Black voter turnout under recent Dem nominees:
2016: 60 percent (Hillary Clinton)
2012: 67 percent (Barack Obama)
2008: 65 percent (Barack Obama)
2004: 60 percent (John Kerry)
In short, turnout rose with Obama as candidate, then declined to where it had been under Candidate Kerry. Putting it another way:

On its face, it isn't clear that there's anything here that anyone needs to explain.

In 2016, black turnout declined to where it had been the last time the Democratic nominee wasn't Barack Obama! The following data offer wider context:
Black voter turnout under previous Dem nominees:
2000: 57 percent (Al Gore)
1996: 53 percent (Bill Clinton)
1992: 59 percent (Bill Clinton)
Make of those numbers what you will. But according to the data in question, black turnout in 2016 was as high as it ever had been, except for the two elections when Obama was the candidate.

Why would anyone be surprised by the decline in the black turnout rate in 2016? Why would anyone feel the need to blame that turnout rate on "disillusionment with Mr. Obama’s record," as the Princeton professor has done?

We don't know, but that's the way the essay began when the New York Times decided to publish the work of the Princeton professor. As we've long noted, work like this is constantly offered in the New York Times.

More and more and more and more, it seems to us that our liberal tribe simply isn't up to the task of dealing with this, The Age of Trump.

Simply put, we're routinely unintelligent, we're highly scripted and we're sometimes remarkably silly. More and more often, The Others think we're dumb and/or offensive, often for reasons which are perfectly valid.

Today, we're offering one small example of The Way Our Highest Progressive Elites Are Strongly Inclined to Function. Tribal groups whose leadership functions this way may not be long for this world.

Our meta-question is this:

Can you imagine the possibility that our Ivy professors and our most famous newspaper just aren't especially sharp? More and more and more and more, that seems to us to be The Story of The Age.

Can we liberals bring ourselves to conceive of this possibility? According to waves of anthropologists, the human brain just isn't wired for such counterintuitive tasks.

Why did black turnout decline in 2016? We'll answer the question with one of our own:

Given everything we know about human affairs, why wouldn't that turnout rate have declined in 2016? Elite professors and flyweight newspapers might start by riddling us that!

The woods are lovely, dark and deep. Is it possible that we ourselves, over here in our liberal tents, just aren't sharp enough to deal with a figure like Trump?

Trump seems to be bumping up in the polls. Are we going to know how to win?

Starting tomorrow: The rational animal's fictions

Coming soon: Award-wining work! The rational animal's lair!

BREAKING: We're off on a mission of national import!


Therefore, no fish today:
Not unlike General Washington before us, we're off on a mission of national import, one with Oscar implications.

For this reason, we will have no fish today.

Who won Iowa?


Also, who lost clarity and common sense?
Who won Iowa, Sanders or Buttigieg?

Excitement builds as cable pundits keep asking the pointless question.

What makes the question pointless? For starters, Iowa isn't a "winner take all" state at this stage of the game. It doesn't matter "won won" in the obvious way it would in a winner-take-all situation.

Eventually, barges will deliver Monday evening's final data to the state party in Des Moines. Whatever the final totals (of various types) might turn out to be, Sanders and Buttigieg will emerge with roughly equal numbers of "state delegate equivalents," and with more than anyone else.

(By the way, good luck getting someone to explain what a "state delegate equivalent" is.)

Buttigieg and Sanders will get more state delegate equivalents than Warren or Biden will—but no one will get them all. On that basis, it doesn't matter who may have "won" by a handful of votes, except for purposes of spreading excitement around.

It also doesn't matter because Iowa is just one state. There are 49 other states, plus assorted districts, territories and isolated outposts.

Because there are 49 other states, it doesn't matter who got the most votes, by a narrow margin, in this one lone state. But just try telling that to the reporters and pundits who populate our mainstream press.

Those pundits! Instead of urging against a stampede based on votes in only one state, they're now playing their standard quadrennial role, suggesting that certain candidates must be on their way out the door because of what happened in Iowa.

How silly is that? Consider:

It's often noted that Iowa is an "unrepresentative" state. Beyond that, though, the selections made in its incomprehensible caucus system are made by a relatively small, unrepresentative sample of Iowa voters!

Despite a year of Iowa-humping within the upper-end press corps, the state's caucus process is so noxious that large portions of Iowa voters don't show up or take part. Consider one recent example:

In 2016, there were roughly 2.2 million registered voters in Iowa. In that year's November general election, 1.57 million of them actually showed up to vote.

But according to the two state parties, fewer than 360,000 people took part in that year's caucuses, even after we spent our standard full year blubbering about the devotion and dedication of Iowa's nonpareil, civic-minded voters. In each party, the vast majority of registered voters didn't take part in the caucuses.

In a rare manifestation, Daniel Bush (no relation) took notice of the routine low turnout at the caucuses in a report for the PBS NewsHour that year. Among other things, the gentleman offered this:
BUSH (1/27/16): Attending a caucus eats up the evening, making it hard for people who might like to participate but can’t rearrange their busy schedules to make time for a political event.

“You have to hope the car starts, the babysitter shows up, you’re not sick and there’s no blizzard,”
said Goldford, adding that it’s especially difficult for people who work at night and can’t take off for the caucuses, which start at 7 p.m.

As a result, the caucuses are dominated by Iowa’s most engaged primary voters—a small subset of liberals and religious conservatives in a largely white, rural state that is far less diverse than the country as a whole.
In short, the state of Iowa is "unrepresentative" to begin with. In turn, the caucuses are attended by a small, unrepresentative sample of its unrepresentative electorate!

That said, so what? On Tuesday morning, we saw NBC's Ali Vitali confidently asserting that "we know there are three tickets out of Iowa." They play it this way every four years, and nothing will ever stop them.

Despite impressions you may get on cable TV, very few of our failing systems have ever made actual sense. It's crazy to think that a small subset of Iowa voters should wring down the curtain on White House contenders, but major pundits play it that way every time.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but we the people aren't always perfectly sharp. Unfortunately, the people we see on our TV machines are several times less impressive.

Few things that we do make actual sense. It's their job not to notice!

THE RATIONAL ANIMAL'S VALUES: Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!


Tired book turned into tract:
For reasons which haven't been fully explained, Greta Gerwig decided to create yet another film bearing the name Little Women.

Such films are sometimes called "adaptations." In this case, Gerwig produced some ch-ch-changes to Louisa May Alcott's somewhat dated tale. To wit:

As everyone knows, Alcott's famous novel ends with its heroine, Jo March, marrying Professor Bhaer.

According to one of Gerwig's producers, this had to be ch-ch-ch-changed. "You know we can’t actually have her marry Professor Bhaer,” Gerwig is said to have said.

This resolution has produced a mysterious ending in Gerwig's film—an ending straight outta This Year at Marryin's Bad. Some viewers think Jo and Bhaer get married; others feel sure that they don't.

Whatever! Fanpersons agree that the ending is great, whatever it is that actually happens. The fact that you can't tell what happens is what makes this ending so great!

At any rate, the fact that Jo March can't get married is one of Gerwig's major ch-ch-ch-changes. A second, widely ballyhooed change involves Marmee's anger.

In Louisa May Alcott's actual book, Jo, then roughly 15, tells her mother that she (Jo) can't control "my dreadful temper." Thanks to a bit of (understandable) pique on Jo's part, her youngest sister has almost drowned. The following exchange occurs, with Jo speaking first:
ALCOTT (chapter 8): "You can't guess how bad it is! It seems as if I could do anything when I'm in a passion. I get so savage, I could hurt anyone and enjoy it. I'm afraid I shall do something dreadful some day, and spoil my life, and make everybody hate me. Oh, Mother, help me, do help me!"

"I will, my child, I will.
Don't cry so bitterly, but remember this day, and resolve with all your soul that you will never know another like it. Jo, dear, we all have our temptations, some far greater than yours, and it often takes us all our lives to conquer them. You think your temper is the worst in the world, but mine used to be just like it."

"Yours, Mother? Why, you are never angry!" And for the moment Jo forgot remorse in surprise.

"I've been trying to cure it for forty years, and have only succeeded in controlling it. I am angry nearly every day of my life, Jo, but I have learned not to show it..."
As you can see, much of the writing in this famous old text is in fact rather clunky. But Marmee's statement—"I am angry nearly every day of my life"—appears word for word in Gerwig's film, and it's been heralded, far and wide, as Marmee's complaint against sexist oppression.

Every critic praises Gerwig for diagnosing this hidden meaning in Alcott's famous text. Perhaps somewhat cynically, we'll guess that this widely recited interpretation was floated in the film's press release, or perhaps it simply was put into play by Gerwigs early interviews.

Whatever! According to major anthropologists, the rational animal always loved to repeat whatever the last twenty tribe members had said. So it has been in reviews of this film, with Gerwig praised for the greatness of the way she found the meaning in Marmee's remark.

For better or worse, Alcott's actual text doesn't support this interpretation is any conceivable manner. Indeed, how has Marmee learned to check her hasty words? Soon, this exchange occurs. Marmee is speaking first:
ALCOTT: "I've learned to check the hasty words that rise to my lips, and when I feel that they mean to break out against my will, I just go away for a minute, and give myself a little shake for being so weak and wicked," answered Mrs. March with a sigh and a smile, as she smoothed and fastened up Jo's disheveled hair.

"How did you learn to keep still? That is what troubles me, for the sharp words fly out before I know what I'm about, and the more I say the worse I get, till it's a pleasure to hurt people's feelings and say dreadful things. Tell me how you do it, Marmee dear."

"My good mother used to help me..."

"As you do us..." interrupted Jo, with a grateful kiss.

"But I lost her when I was a little older than you are, and for years had to struggle on alone, for I was too proud to confess my weakness to anyone else. I had a hard time, Jo, and shed a good many bitter tears over my failures, for in spite of my efforts I never seemed to get on. Then your father came, and I was so happy that I found it easy to be good. But by-and-by, when I had four little daughters round me and we were poor, then the old trouble began again, for I am not patient by nature, and it tried me very much to see my children wanting anything."

"Poor Mother! What helped you then?"

"Your father, Jo. He never loses patience, never doubts or complains
, but always hopes, and works and waits so cheerfully that one is ashamed to do otherwise before him. He helped and comforted me, and showed me that I must try to practice all the virtues I would have my little girls possess..."
Oof. Marmee was lucky enough to have the help of her cheerful husband! At any rate, nothing in Alcott's book suggests that Marmee's temper is meant to be seen as an expression of her oppression. This is one of the ch-ch-changes we're told that Gerwig engineered to make the book fit our own times.

Another of these ch-ch-changes involves Professor Bhaer's "harsh criticism" of Jo's writing. In Gerwig'a film, we see Professor Bhaer tell Jo, in no uncertain terms, that he doesn't approve of the "sensation stories" she is composing for what it, in effect, the tabloid press of the day.

Bhaer is remarkably direct. Jo tells him off in no uncertain terms, as any self-respecting person would do in the thoroughly enlightened modern world of today. But nothing like that actually happens in Alcott's actual book.

In Alcott's actual book, the professor hasn't seen any of the Jo's tabloid tales when he tells her that he disapproves of such work as a general matter. It's also abundantly clear that Jo agree with this critical judgment.

She has already voiced embarrassment at the fact that she writes such lurid "rubbish," and we've already seen her reproaching herself over the fact that her parents wouldn't approve. Not even good feminist Marmee!

After her exchange with Bhaer, Jo vows that she will never produce such tabloid trash again. At no point does she storm off in anger over criticism by the professor. Indeed, in Alcott's book, Jo is grateful for the fact that the wise professor has helped her see the problem with the "rubbish" (her term) she has been producing.

Jo is grateful to the professor. Indeed, we see her tell herself this about her lurid "sensation stories:"
ALCOTT: "They are trash, and will soon be worse trash if I go on, for each is more sensational than the last. I've gone blindly on, hurting myself and other people, for the sake of money. I know it's so, for I can't read this stuff in sober earnest without being horribly ashamed of it, and what should I do if they were seen at home or Mr. Bhaer got hold of them?"
Jo says she's been hurting other people for the sake of money! Think how conflicted she might have been over the amounts of money tabloid rubbish can produce today, on cable TV or in Hollywood!

In Alcott's book, Marmee's anger doesn't stem from societal oppression. The professor doesn't "harshly criticize" Jo, and she doesn't tell him off when he does.

The other change Gerwig affects involves the fat, unattractive Bhaer. In a remarkably instructive essay at Vox, followed by a remarkably instructive colloquy, Constance Grady instructs us in the values of our modern highly progressive progressives.

According to Grady, Jo's marriage to the appalling Bhaer has always lay at the heart of the book's "notorious problem ending." The professor is too old and too "stout;" he's also "unattractive." In the passage shown below, she helps us see the values with which our flailing, failing tribe is now apparently saddled:
GRADY (12/27/19): The end of Little Women sees its heroine, tomboyish and ambitious Jo, married off to the pointedly unromantic Friedrich Bhaer, a middle-aged and unattractive German professor who disapproves of the sensational stories she writes. And the character readers expect Jo to end up with, her charming best friend Laurie, marries Jo’s least favorite sister Amy instead.

And so, while generations of readers have loved Little Women and sighed over Little Women, they have also puzzled over that bizarre, unsatisfying ending. Why would Louisa May Alcott do such a thing to Jo? Why would she do such a thing to us?
According to the highly progressive Grady, Professor Bhaer is unattractive and middle-aged (according to Alcott's text, he's "almost 40" when he and Jo meet). He "disapproves of the sensational stories [Jo] writes." Two paragraphs later, Grady complains that the professor is "stout."

The professor is old and fat. Given our modern progressive values, that called for some ch-ch-ch-changes!

With that, along came Gerwig. Alcott thought she knew what we need, but Gerwig knows what we want:
GRADY: Little Women adaptations have struggled to provide satisfying answers to those questions, and generally they do so by working hard against the grain of Alcott’s writing. Laurie’s marriage to Amy generally gets glossed over as quickly as possible, while Bhaer generally gets transformed into a palatable romantic hero.

Most contemporary versions of Little Women, contra Alcott’s description of the professor as a middle-aged man who is both “rather stout” and also “plain and odd,” have cast Bhaer with a young and attractive actor. He also becomes less harsh toward Jo’s writing...

Gerwig’s Little Women follows some of the path laid out before it by previous adaptations. Gerwig, too, makes Bhaer younger and sexier than he is in Alcott’s novel.
The professor wasn't palatable! Like all the other Tinseltown types, heroic Gerwig has made him "younger and sexier." We fiery modern-day progressives can thus breathe a sigh of relief.

We leave our campus tomorrow morning on an Oscar-related mission of extreme national import. For weekend study, we leave a possible reading assignment:

In chapters 33 and 34, Alcott actually does a skillful job showing us the development of Jo's attraction to Bhaer.

In chapter 33, we read her letters home from her new job in New York—letters in which she keeps describing the professor's various fine qualities. We learn that he has even gifted here with volumes of Shakespeare. This is some of the best writing in Alcott's book—and it's easy to make out the drift of what Jo describes in her letters.

In chapter 34, the exchange about the rubbishy "sensation stories" occurs. But all through that chapter, in several episodes, Jo's growing admiration for the professor only becomes more obvious. With how much clarity did poor Alcott have to spell it out?
ALCOTT (chapter 34): I don't know whether the study of Shakespeare helped her to read character, or the natural instinct of a woman for what was honest, brave, and strong, but while endowing her imaginary heroes with every perfection under the sun, Jo was discovering a live hero, who interested her in spite of many human imperfections. Mr. Bhaer, in one of their conversations, had advised her to study simple, true, and lovely characters, wherever she found them, as good training for a writer. Jo took him at his word, for she coolly turned round and studied him—a proceeding which would have much surprised him, had he known it, for the worthy Professor was very humble in his own conceit.
Jo was discovering a live hero. As she coolly turns round and studies him, Alcott describes a long list of virtues she finds in this unattractive man.

Later, Jo and Fatso marry, creating this allegedly beloved book's "notorious problem ending." Even worse, they open a school for destitute children! Why would someone do that?

Progressives like Grady and Gerwig can't seem to find value in such tedious conduct. They want the professor younger and sexier. With these values, our failing tribe keeps marching forward, often while being exposed to justifiable ridicule by the grateful propagandists at Fox.

The punditry surrounding Gerwig's "adaptation" has been deeply instructive. Simply put, nothing is too dumb or too unclear for us to assert it as obvious fact—and Fox is eager to take our nonsense and tell The Others about it.

The professor was honest, brave and strong, but he was also too fat. We may offer a few more thoughts about this mass of punditry next week; a great deal remains to be said. But oh what kind of progressive values are these, which go from dumb and deeply unattractive to much worse?

What Alyssa Rosenberg seems to have seen!


We thought we saw it too:
Long ago and far away—this may take us back to the late 1980s!—we sat before a TV set with a young relative who was, as the memory flies, something like 8 years old.

Skanky MTV videos were on. The message concerning the role of young women was blindingly obvious. We recall feeling sorry for our young relative, for the messaging being delivered to her at such a young age.

If her brother had been there, we would have felt sorry for him as well. On the brighter side, skanky producers and skanky "artists" were lining their pockets with cash.

On Sunday evening, the Washington Post's Alyssa Rosenberg seems to have had a similar reaction to the Super Bowl halftime show. When yesterday's column appeared, we'd also say that she seemed to be trying to say a good deal less than what she actually thought:
ROSENBERG (2/3/20): The show, starring Shakira and Jennifer Lopez, was intended to accomplish a number of things: to boost the National Football League’s lagging Latino viewership, to nod to Miami’s Latino cultural traditions and to provide a spectacle more engaging than last year’s wholly generic performance by Maroon 5. The two Latina headliners sparked conversations about everything from the role of zaghrouta in Arabic cultures to Puerto Rico’s essential Americanness.

But one debate overshadowed the rest: whether Shakira and Lopez had dominated the stage—or been demeaned by a show that was undeniably sexy.


J-Lo entered the stage on a stripper pole, wearing leather chaps that gave way to a bedazzled, barely there bodysuit, while Shakira’s already tiny outfit shrank as the night went on. But the singers had to navigate more than quick costume changes and shifting sets: They were performing their way through a thorny set of norms.
Rosenberg gave us two choices. Had the two women "dominated the stage?" Or had they "been demeaned" by the show, in which one of them entered the stage on a stripper pole?

Is a third choice possible? Did the two women present a misogynist-leaning spectacle, increasing their fame as they did? Or is it simply all in good fun to "enter the stage on a pole?"

(Opinions on that may differ.)

Rosenberg implies that Lopez may have been demeaned by the show, not that she may have demeaned herself and worked against the best interests of women and children and men. Has progressive sexual politics possibly slid a couple of steps steps when that third possibility can't even be voiced at this point?

Presumably, this is the part, later on in the column, where we possibly find the two women being demeaned—demeaned by Fox, no less:
ROSENBERG: Shakira’s and J-Lo’s costumes stayed firmly in place. But Fox seemed determine to remove all mystery anyway, aiming cameras at their crotches so frequently that I actually lost count. The network’s fixation seemed to take inspiration from Bruce Springsteen’s fly-first slide at the camera during the Super Bowl halftime show in 2009. Then, Springsteen’s sudden genital takeover of America’s television screens felt like a boyish act of exuberance. This time, Fox’s crotch fixation brought on a case of mild moral panic.
Did the two women in question not know that their crotches were going to be featured in that way? Putting it another way, do Shakira and Lopez lack agency?

There was a time when feminism would have seen this show for what it possibly was. Rosenberg seems to have seen it for what it may have been, but it almost seems she no longer felt that she could speak directly.

Elsewhere at the Washington Post
, Emily Codik stressed the two performers' agency. No one told them what to wear!

Wherever you think the ultimate merits lie, we were struck by the way Codik's logic crashed and burned surrounding the question of what it means to see a performance as "objectifying or belittling to women."

Was Sunday evening's halftime show "objectifying or belittling to women?" We'd be inclined to say it was, but we were most struck by Rosenberg's apparent inability even to offer that for consideration as a third possible option.

Final point:

Our young relative turned out fine. But as we read the papers today, it seemed to us that many young woman have had a much harder time with our routinely repellent sexual culture.

On the brighter side, people make a lot of dough. There's always a brighter side to things when the costumes are barely there!