Contemporary values of Vox: We've tried, but we haven't quite succeeded! We haven't quite made it past the comments about the poverty—the poverty which isn't quite seen in the lionized film.
The film in question is Greta Gerwig's new version of Little Women. The comments were made in passing at Vox, early in a hagiographic discussion of the Oscar-nominated film.
Eventually, the three fanpersons discussing the film would complain about the way Gerwig was robbed when she wasn't nominated for a Best Director Oscar. Someone at Vox then put a bogus headline on the discussion—a bogus headline which amped up what the three fanpersons had said.
Increasingly, so it goes when liberals like us pretend to be doing journalism. Still, the comments about the poverty pretty much stuck in our craw.
The comment in question came right at the start of the lengthy discussion. Bogus headline included, the discussion started like this:
Greta Gerwig’s fresh take on Little Women won’t win Best Picture, but it shouldSo spoke Alissa Wilkinson and Meredith Haggerty. Constance Grady quickly added a comment about the "poverty" in which the oldest March sister is forced to live when she marries John Brooke.
WILKINSON: I have all faith in Greta Gerwig, but even I was a little worried when this project was announced! I grew up reading the Little Women novels and watching the film adaptations, especially the 1994 version, which was one of maybe six VHS films I owned growing up.
But the new adaptation delivered even better than I could have imagined. The cast is marvelous, but it’s Gerwig herself who really made it sing, finding a unique way into the story that preserved the joy of the earlier adaptations while also teasing out elements that were there all along but hadn’t been emphasized before.
What for you were the film’s biggest revelations or realizations? What was the moment at which you realized what she was doing?
HAGGERTY: I’m a Little Women diehard...so when I heard about this one, it sounded like an incredibly promising addition to what I basically consider a genre. My biggest fear was my own high expectations, but it seriously delivered.
For me, the biggest revelations were 1) Florence Pugh’s Amy (Constance, I know you identify as an Amy too; we will be getting into that), finally bringing justice to a misunderstood sister, and 2) the way Gerwig dealt with the role of money in the March family’s lives. I’ve seen arguments that the family March’s poverty wasn’t explored as much as it could have been, but I did feel like the incredibly limited choices for women and the pressure to save the family came across more than in other versions of the story...
First, a few basic points:
In the passage we've posted, we learn that Wilkinson "has all faith in Greta Gerwig," and that Haggerty is "a Little women diehard." This hagiographoic tone extends all through the colloquy. A similar tone has animated the vast bulk of upper-end mainstream discussion, which has been remarkably extensive over the past few months.
Beyond that, we learn that Haggerty and Wilkinson both "identify as an Amy." Later, Grady tell us this: "I am aggressively a Jo, for the record."
One last introductory point. In Vox's lengthy discussion, no one says that Little Women should win the Best Picture Oscar.
Eventually, the three discussants do take turns declaring that Gerwig was robbed when she didn't get a Best Director nomination. The discussion is so ritualistic that it deserves to be shown:
WILKINSON: I (unfortunately) think we need to talk about something frustrating about this movie’s Oscar chances, which is its many Oscar nominations (including for screenplay, actresses, and Best Picture) that somehow omit Gerwig as director. There are a lot of weird factors going into who gets nominated for director, of course, and many worthy candidates—as well as many worthy women who directed outstanding films this year. Should we be mad for Greta?This is ritualistic tribal dogma. Consider:
HAGGERTY: I think it’s impossible not to be mad for Greta in a year when Todd Phillips is nominated. I’m not going to pretend I fully understand what a director does, versus a cinematographer, or an editor, etc., but the look and feel of this film worked so well for me—nostalgic enough to evoke warm feelings, but fresh for a very familiar story. If a director can be judged on successful vibes (can a director be judged on successful vibes?) and also on not, say, boring me to tears by being overlong and indulgent (ahem, The Irishman), she was robbed.
GRADY: I am absolutely mad for Greta, especially since only five women have ever been nominated for Best Director. (Gerwig is one of them, for 2017’s Lady Bird.) The Academy seems to pretty consistently treat movies directed by women as if they just sprang into the world fully formed, like Athena out of Zeus’s head, without any women around to birth them.
Even as she directly states that she (like almost everyone else) doesn't know how to judge a director's work, Haggerty says that Gerwig was robbed when she didn't get a Best Director nomination. She bases this judgment on the fact that "the feel of the film worked so well for me," but also on "successful vibes" and on the fact that a different film which did get nominated "bored me to tears."
Grady extends the claim that Gerwig got robbed on the basis of gender. She does so even as she notes the fact that this same Oscar directors' guild nominated Gerwig as Best Director two short years ago.
Today, within our failing tribe, this sort of thing counts as "analysis." Given the ways of human affairs, when we liberals are willing to dumb ourselves down to such an extent, progressive interests will be in a deep fail.
Meanwhile, let's be fair:
As noted above, none of the three discussants at Vox said that Little Women should win the Oscar for Best Picture. The headline which sat above their discussion simply put that claim in their mouths. Increasingly, this is the way our failing tribe performs our "journalism" in this, the fourth year A.T.—the fourth year After Trump.
Over the past several months, our tribe has been deeply sunk in propagandistics concerning this well-reviewed if imperfect film. In our view, this discussion has been deeply instructive concerning our tribe's intellectual capital—but also, concerning our tribe's current values.
The discussion at Vox is an embarrassment in an array of ways. As we'll note as the week proceeds, other discussions of Little Women at Vox have been even worse.
That said, the comments we couldn't quite get past were the early comments which brought the "poverty" in.
News flash! In Louisa May Alcoot's Little Women, the March family isn't living in poverty. Another family, the Hummels, is—but who gives a fig about them?
It's true that Alcott used the term "poverty" throughout the book to describe the March family's financial situation. But as described, the family isn't living in poverty as the term is now understood.
It's easy to see how our modern observers at Vox could have gotten a different impression. As described in Alcott's book, the March family has only one full-time, live-in servant—and when Amy takes the extended grand tour of Europe, she doesn't get to live at Versailles.
However distressing, these circumstances don't rise to the level of poverty as the term is now understood. The Hummels' circumstances do, and we see them described by Marmee, the March girls' mother, right at the start of the book:
ALCOTT (chapter 2): "Merry Christmas, little daughters!...I want to say one word before we sit down. Not far away from here lies a poor woman with a little newborn baby. Six children are huddled into one bed to keep from freezing, for they have no fire. There is nothing to eat over there, and the oldest boy came to tell me they were suffering hunger and cold. My girls, will you give them your breakfast as a Christmas present?"That other family was living in poverty. When the March family brings them food and firewood, their condition is further described:
ALCOTT: A poor, bare, miserable room it was, with broken windows, no fire, ragged bedclothes, a sick mother, wailing baby, and a group of pale, hungry children cuddled under one old quilt, trying to keep warm.The March sisters were angel children, "cried the poor things as they ate and warmed their purple hands at the comfortable blaze" Mrs. March had started for them. Or at least, so Alcott reported.
How the big eyes stared and the blue lips smiled as the girls went in.
"Ach, mein Gott! It is good angels come to us!" said the poor woman, crying for joy.
Within the moral universe Alcott created, this is the family which actually is suffering from poverty. Eventually, Beth March catches scarlet fever and dies because she is the one March sister who cares enough to continues to go to their home and help them.
Beth dies because she cared. But as you know if you've been reading the punditry, Beth is widely understood to be the boring sister—the sister no one identifies with. Does this possibly tell us something about us?
It's striking that none of our modern Alcott fans identifies with the most moral of the four March sisters. That said, consider the way Alcott's famous book ends.
Alcott's book ends in a way the modern fans reject. They find it "profoundly unsatisfying." Gerwig changed the ending completely, setting their hearts at ease.
How does Alcott's famous book end? First, Jo March marries Professor Bhaer, a person she deeply admires. Over at Vox, Grady finds him impossibly old and stout, as we'll see tomorrow.
Jo March marries Professor Bhaer, a person she deeply admires. And oh no! After she marries the fat old fellow, they open and run a school together!
Despite their location, they don't start Wellesley College, strange as that might seem. Nor do they start a school for young women who aspire to be painters or writers—for the Beths and Jos of the world.
Impossibly and maddeningly, they start a school for the destitute! Given the current values of our tribe, this is apparently hard to fathom. But in the following passage, with Jo speaking, we start to see that it's true.
The "my Fritz" to whom she refers is the overweight loser she married:
ALCOTT (chapter 47): "[T]his isn't a new idea of mine, but a long cherished plan. Before my Fritz came, I used to think how, when I'd made my fortune, and no one needed me at home, I'd hire a big house, and pick up some poor, forlorn little lads who hadn't any mothers, and take care of them, and make life jolly for them before it was too late. I see so many going to ruin for want of help at the right minute, I love so to do anything for them, I seem to feel their wants, and sympathize with their troubles, and oh, I should so like to be a mother to them!"There is a backstory in the book in which the professor, despite his girth, has in fact reduced his own circumstances to care for his motherless nephews.
"I told my plan to Fritz once, and he said it was just what he would like, and agreed to try it when we got rich. Bless his dear heart, he's been doing it all his life—helping poor boys, I mean, not getting rich, that he'll never be."
At the end of Alcott's book, Jo and her unattractive husband open a school at which they hope to serve the poor! In the passage shown below, we're told how things go at the start:
ALCOTT: It was a very astonishing year altogether, for things seemed to happen in an unusually rapid and delightful manner. Almost before she knew where she was, Jo found herself married and settled at Plumfield. Then a family of six or seven boys sprung up like mushrooms, and flourished surprisingly, poor boys as well as rich, for Mr. Laurence was continually finding some touching case of destitution, and begging the Bhaers to take pity on the child, and he would gladly pay a trifle for its support. In this way, the sly old gentleman got round proud Jo, and furnished her with the style of boy in which she most delighted.Despite his girth, Jo's husband was said to have offered good sound advice. Meanwhile, children facing "destitution" were being helped at their school.
Of course it was uphill work at first, and Jo made queer mistakes, but the wise Professor steered her safely into calmer waters...
These are the roles played by poverty and destitution within the moral universe of this famous novel. And that's the way the novel ends.
The voices of Vox take no inspiration from this, the actual ending of this actual book. Neither did Greta Gerwig in a well-reviewed film which might even help us, within our liberal tribe, understand why we're so widely loathed and so little respected.
Tomorrow: Ch-ch-ch-changes! Also, the factors which make Professor Bhaer "the most disappointing of all"