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.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:
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.
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.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."
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.
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, 2019As 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.
An earlier version of this review misidentified Beth as the youngest of the March sisters. The youngest is Amy, not Beth.
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?