Supplemental: Ann Hornaday gets it extremely right!


We would extend her critique:
On Thursday, we thought Professor Dyson had an unusually strong op-ed piece in the New York Times. We highly recommend it.

We think Ann Hornaday tops him today! She does so on the front page of the Washington Post.

For our money, you’ll rarely read a more cogent analysis than the one Hornaday offers. In the hard-copy Post, her piece appears beneath this headline:

“Hollywood turns abuse into an easy plot device”

Hornaday is a film critic. She’s discussing Hollywood, not cable news—but we think her analysis travels, especially when she relates two upcoming Hollywood films to the NFL’s current problems.

For the record, we know Hornaday a tiny tad, although we haven’t seen her or her handsome husband in years. Back in 2007, their adorable daughter, then perhaps 6, took delight in sneaking up on us at the bagel joint and scaring us out of our wits.

This morning, Hornaday discusses two upcoming Hollywood films; they feature two big movie stars. She describes a troubling plot device the upcoming films employ:
HORNADAY (9/20/14): “A Walk Among the Tombstones” also pivots around a plot device that has become as troublesome as it is overused in Hollywood: an inciting incident of sexualized violence against a woman so heinous that it demands nothing short of a brutalizing rampage to avenge. It’s a trope trotted out with similar making-the-doughnuts roteness in “The Equalizer,” due out next Friday, in which Denzel Washington plays a freelance crime-fighter determined to bring rough justice to a group of thugs who have nearly beaten to death a teenage prostitute he recently befriended.
According to Hornaday—we’re thrilled to see this on a front page—movies like these “have an uneasily symbiotic relationship with violence, especially against women and children.”

In films like these, violence against women is “deployed as a narrative device: not to incite genuine offense,” Hornaday says, “but as an aesthetic element in itself, allowing filmmakers to indulge their most luridly toxic fantasies while pretending to abhor them.”

So true! As Hornaday went into more detail, she took us back to the 1970s, when we walked out of The Deep because of the lurid way it kept trapping Jacqueline Bisset underwater—in a succession of wet T-shirts, of course—as she was subjected to thrilling threats of violence.

Whenever the plot began slowing down, they sent her underwater.

In those days, we used to watch an hour of TV police drama each school night—Streets of San Francisco, Mannix or Cannon—until we recoiled against the way those programs increasingly used lurid threats of violence against women as a way to draw eyeballs in.

Hornaday describes this approach in substantial detail. We never knew there was an industry name for this type of dreck, but apparently there is—“woman in jep” (shorthand for woman in jeopardy).

In Hornaday’s view, this sort of thing became respectable in award-winning films like The Silence of the Lambs, which featured two big movie stars we’re all supposed to respect.

By now, the analysts were loudly cheering. And, as Hornaday continued, she just kept pouring it on:
HORNADAY: Not only have the perils of Pauline become exponentially more perverted, pornographic and pervasive, they’ve become the lazy screenwriter’s go-to springboard to get the action underway, a sure-fire mechanism for recruiting the audience’s most base curiosities and giving the protagonist—usually male—crucial moral cover for spending the next hour and a half indulging in his own righteous brand of sadism and savagery.

“A Walk Among the Tombstones” and “The Equalizer,” let it be noted, strive mightily for high-toned restraint and good taste: Both movies keep their vilest acts against women “tastefully” off-screen, submitting the audience to quick, lacerating glimpses of the horrors their writers have dreamed up…

In both cases, the oblique approach has the same effect, which is to invite viewers to conjure unspeakable behavior on their own, momentarily shifting the image from the screen in front of them to their own collective mind’s eye. Thus does Hollywood coyly perfect what it does best: having its cake and eating it too, making the most reprehensible violence part of its aesthetic and industrial practice, while keeping it arm’s-length enough to claim (barely) credible deniability.
We agree with every word. Speaking only for ourselves, we’ll suggest that similar “cinematic grammar” and motives have perhaps been at work in recent weeks as cable news has histrionically complained about the Ray Rice case.

We know! We want to believe that the high-minded people we see on our screens are actually high-minded people!

They’re loudly complaining about conduct which is plainly undesirable. Surely, we want to think, their motives must be pure.

We’ll suggest that we should be a bit less easy than that.

Hornaday goes on to describe the NFL’s recent behavior. “[Roger] Goodell and his colleagues have been so dizzyingly incoherent in their responses to real-life violence this week,” she says.

We might not go as far as that, but we would quickly add this point:

Anderson Cooper and his colleagues have often been “dizzyingly incoherent” too! Because they pose as journalists rather than business owners, we should expect more of them than we expect of Goodell, who is simply the spokesman for a giant corporation.

The dizzying incoherence continued on cable last night. We think of Rachel Maddow’s interview with William Rhoden. We think of a perfect pundit moment authored by Cooper himself.

Most strikingly, we think of the loud histrionics of Mel Robbins, the “CNN legal analyst.”

We’d post a sample of the things Robbins said as she pretended to offer commentary to Erin Burnett. But we’d have to put exclamation points after every word she said.

Forgive us for being less than admiring of loudmouth performers like Robbins. On CNN, she’s sold as a “legal analyst”—but on her own site, she’s sold as “The Most Powerful Female Motivational Speaker You Can Hire.”

The Hollywood of CNN wants you to think that Robbins is sincere. As we watched her orate last night, we couldn’t help wondering if she might not be trying to sell us her books; if she might not be trying to get us to pay her a higher speaking fee.

Hornaday criticizes Hollywood and the NFL. We’d suggest that you think about adding CNN, another big corporate entity whose work has often been dizzyingly incoherent in the past two weeks.

Is Hollywood selling you phony piety in its “women in jep” films? It’s been doing that for a very long time—and people we’re all supposed to admire are making millions of dollars as the stars of such dreck.

Well, guess what? In substantial part, cable TV is Hollywood too! As we read Hornaday’s superb analysis, we did think of CNN.

Last night, former NFL quarterback Fran Tarkenton spoke with Burnett—and briefly went off-message. He assailed the NFL for the many situations it has covered up down through the years, including steroid use and the brain damage being done to its players.

Tarkenton was still in the pocket as he attacked the target this way—but then, he started to scramble. Aggressively, he assailed “the media” for the general disinterest they’ve shown in these topics down through the years.

In the wake of the second Ray Rice tape, the pundits are loudly braying. Not unlike Roger Goodell, they had little to say about any of this before that tape emerged.

Often, their wildly overstated analyses seem to make little sense. Are the pundits playing it straight? Or are some of these overwrought players possibly braying from Hollywood?

Are some of them trying to bump up their fees? Because they tell us they’re journalists, we think these questions matter.


  1. Before I believe a single word Hornaday wrote, I want to know how much money she makes and what kind of house she and "her handsome husband" live in.

    1. I also see Hornaday is elitely educated, and by Somerby standards, "youngish." (Smith, '82)

    2. These things do not determine the content of what someone writes but they can perhaps supply an explanation when people with these backgrounds write bad stuff.

    3. Au contraire! Al Gore was defeated because Meredith Vieira lives in a very nice home, and history was forever changed.

    4. Two. Two very nice homes. One is missing some furniture, though.

  2. Speaking of "wildly overstated analyses," wasn't Hornaday the film critic who tried to blame Eliot Rodger's bloody rampage on "outsized fratboy fantasies" in movies, specifically naming "Neighbors"?

    Could it possibly be that blaming Hollywood for society's ills is merely and oversimplistic, under-thought and cheap columnist trick to create fake controversy to generate attention and readers?

  3. Men are raped too.

    1. Yes, I see that in the movies all the time.

  4. I guess "Ann Hornaday" is compulsively Googled by Men's Rights Activists (or however the Bat Signal gets activated.)

    Real men use pseudonyms, pal.

  5. I love how all the BOBfans blithely sweep under the rug the Lipitor scandal exposed by Cooper and all the good it has done for children.

    1. Hitler made trains run on time, so never mind Poland or the camps.

    2. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and why does nobody say "Never mind Czechoslovakia on Norway"?

    3. Czechoslovakia was taken by semi-legal means, including a plebiscite and government decision to merge with Germany (however coerced) whereas Poland was invaded by armies. Look up Quisling to see why Norway isn't mentioned. Assuming that was a serious question.

    4. It was a serious as comparing sarcasm involving this blog to Hitler was intelligent.

      It was as serious as responding to my comment was worthwhile.

    5. It addressed the reasoning "Cooper once did something good, therefore he cannot be criticized for doing something bad now."

    6. No rubbable points here.

  6. Someone I don't know should heed every one of these words from Hornaday as well:

    "Still, I believe that work — like every other aspect of daily life — is both a venue and a crucible for exploring and expressing our deepest values. I take to heart the exhortation of the British mystic and writer Evelyn Underhill — one of my spiritual heroes — that work should be “part of the creative apparatus” of the Holy Spirit. How to live into that reality and still be inclusive, accessible and — please, God — free of scolding, self-righteous sanctimony?

    1. Another criticism of Somerby. Have you ever asked yourself why you hear his musings as scolding?

      It is difficult to accomplish change without stating what must be changed. How easy it would be to derail a movement toward change if all the powers that be need do is say, "There you go, scolding again." Feminists in particular have learned not to mind the names -- they know being called nag and scold is a sign of progress being made.

    2. Why do you see that as a criticism of Somerby.

    3. Heed whatever you want man. Do your own research and draw your own conclusions. Being thinned skinned and afraid hasn't served you well and it never will.

  7. Blow's columns were as good.

  8. I notice the only film Bob seems to remember anything about was The Deep. And all he remembers is Bisset in a wet T shirt. He left in protest he says, but only after the plot slowed down several times so he can remember Bisset in trouble underwater. I saw the film. I seem to recall if you had left in protest over the wet T Shirt underwater scenes with Jacqueline Bisset you left at the very beginning.

    1. On the waterfront. Still, what you write is kind of funny.