Promising Woman scores five Oscar noms!

MONDAY, MARCH 15, 2021

Dreamscape evokes a royal: We read several fascinating pieces of journalism over the weekend.

At the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf offered this rumination on the Black Lives Matter curriculum now being taught in the Evanston, Illinois public schools.

This morning, at New York magazine, David Wallace-Wells ponders the question we raised once again raised in our Saturday post, producing this follow-up by Kevin Drum. 

Why have a vast range of Pacific nations had stunningly low Covid death rates? Wallace-Wells didn't exactly answer the question, but he did his usual searching work as he spelled it out:

WALLACE-WELLS (3/15/21): Take Germany. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Angela Merkel has been celebrated as a beacon of rational leadership—a technocrat with a doctorate in quantum chemistry, presiding calmly over an unprecedented crisis, with a citizenry often stereotyped as compliant, orderly, respectful of science. To judge by death, Germany has indeed outperformed the U.S., with fewer than 900 per million citizens, compared to our more than 1,600. But New Zealand, to pick one counterexample, has registered just over five per million. That is, for every Kiwi per million who died, so did 162 Germans. And 298 Americans.

New Zealand has natural advantages—it’s small, it’s an island, it’s got national health care; when the disease arrived and containment mattered most, it happened to be summer; there’s an inspiring prime minister, and social trust is high...Nearby Australia is a much larger nation, with a divisive media powered by Rupert Murdoch, and a Trump- or at least Boris-like leader. It has bigger airports and plenty of A/C. You might expect Australia to look a lot more like the U.S. or U.K. But its death rate is under 36 per million—less than one-50th the American rate...

...In Taiwan, the death rate is a minuscule 0.42 per million. The European Union performed, on average, 3,000 times worse...[W]hat is most startling across East and Southeast Asia—an incredibly heterogeneous region, with wealthy nations and poor ones, democracies and authoritarian regimes, national health-care systems and patchwork networks—is just how consistent the story is.

What explains this astounding  regional mortality gap? If we've read him correctly on first glance, Wallace-Wells seems to say that nobody knows. 

We've been struck by the near-total lack of interest in this question at the major news organs of Our Town. Also, needless to say, on Our Town's entertainment- and profit-based corporate "cable news" channels, where we the viewers are rarely taxed with matters like this at all.

We read other fascinating material this weekend. The New York Times Book Review featured one of the most scathing reviews we've ever read. Its account of the relentlessly doctored facts in the book being reviewed made us think of—what else?—the Rachel Maddow Show

We chuckled when we read this piece in yesterday's Times. We'll probably discuss it later.

There was a lot to read this weekend. We were very happy this morning when we got the Oscar news at Slate:

Promising Young Woman has been nominated for five major Oscars—Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing. As we read about the film's success, we found ourselves thinking about Prince Harry.

Citizens, here's why:

Slate's Dan Kois delivered an instant warning about Promising Young Woman. "Emerald Fennell’s revenge drama has its detractors, including Dana Stevens here in Slate," the gentleman quickly wrote. Here's the fuller passage:

KOIS (3/15/21):  Oh this is an interesting one. Emerald Fennell’s revenge drama has its detractors, including Dana Stevens here in Slate, who writes that the film’s message is so muddied as to be made imperceptible by Fennell’s attempts to portray its heroine as both an avenging angel and a dangerously driven revenge junkie. They might argue it’s Actually Bad. I’d suggest that, despite its flaws, it offers many viewers the kind of grim catharsis they want out of such a story. Like [several] previous nominees..., it’s not Actually Bad but Worth Arguing About. Every collection of Best Picture nominees should have one of these!

We don't think we've ever seen a major critic misunderstand a major film to the extent that Stevens misunderstands Promising Young Woman. Deferring to the dignity of his colleague, Kois throws Emerald Fennell a bit of a left-handed bone:

Promising Young Woman isn't "actually bad," he generously tells us.

In our view, Promising Young Woman isn't a "revenge drama" in the way Stevens and Kois imagine. It's a dreamscape about a person who's fully aware of a great moral outrage—a person who's also able to see that no one else gives a flying fark about the outrage in question.

Fennell's protagonist is able to see that no one else actually cares. In our view, the film is a bit of an inner dreamscape building upon that key point. 

You'll note that Promising Young Woman wasn't nominated for Best Documentary. Nor is it a "how to do it" "rape revenge" film. In our view, it's a jangled portrait of our own highly performative, wildly uncaring age. 

(People who don't actually care—except perhaps about their careers—may have trouble seeing the film this way.)

In a way, Promising Young Woman could be distantly compared to Chinatown, in which the Nicholson character becomes the only person in Los Angeles who knows about the outrageous misuse of the region's water supply. Also, the Dunaway character.

Today, though, we thought of Prince Harry as we celebrated the film's nominations. Here's why:

In the dramascapes of the past several decades, Harry has been presented as the royal who most deeply cared about the vast mistreatment directed at his late mother. If that's actually true of Harry, we'll say this:

Extremely good for him!

Like Fennell's character, he's been portrayed as caring about an injustice in a way others just don't. That makes some of the conduct described in the Oprah interview especially hard to fathom.

More on that as the week proceeds, but we loved Promising Young Woman. It strikes us as a painfully accurate dreamscape portrait of our false, faux, performative age.

Still coming this week: Rachel Maddow on General Flynn. Rachel on Manchin's racism...


  1. "there’s an inspiring prime minister, and social trust is high..."

    Heh. Thanks for the laughs, dear Bob. Of course, Liberal God COVID always shows mercy to those with 'inspiring prime ministers' and 'social trust'.

    "Still coming this week: Rachel Maddow on General Flynn. Rachel on Manchin's racism..."

    Stop hurting your head already, dear Bob, please. Stop killing billions of brain cells for no good reason whatsoever.

    We're begging you. There's nothing now, absolutely nothing left to learn about Rachel Maddow. She is a blue-anon dembot, that is all.

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  2. “We've been struck by the near-total lack of interest in this question at the major news organs of Our Town.”

    Drum says: “This is not a topic that's been ignored”, which is true, and it directly contradicts Somerby’s assertion.

    1. Drum says that in the context of talking about attention from experts in the field.

      Somerby says that it’s not been widely discussed in the media.

    2. There's a hair not worth splitting.

      If Somerby means that Maddow hasn't discussed this, he should say so.

  3. "Promising Woman scores five Oscar noms!"

    If Somerby likes this film, there must be something majorly wrong with it.

  4. "We've been struck by the near-total lack of interest in this question at the major news organs of Our Town."

    News organs exist to report news. They only speculate when reporting someone else's speculations.

    In this case, if no one knows why the Asian countries are doing so well, what is there to report?

    I suspect it is because the Asian nations despite being heterogeneous in other ways, are all collectivist and thus believe in cooperation for the common good, which means wearing masks and social distancing and otherwise obeying public health officials.

  5. Somerby passes along Wallace-Wells’ “searching” essay with zero critique. Unfortunately, the essay is mostly crap. This is Wallace-Wells’ point, which is an anti-liberal one and therefore of interest to Somerby:

    “there is not just a set of policies that will bring success and can just be applied to any place in the world.

    This is not how the disease has been regarded by most American liberals, who’ve tended to see COVID as a straightforward management challenge, in which the pandemic can be “solved” through science-first policy and dutiful compliance “

    There are two things wrong. One: no liberal claimed the pandemic could be “solved.” Rather, “liberals” claim that the effects of the pandemic can be significantly reduced through science-first policy and dutiful compliance, which we decidedly did not have in 2020. So Wallace-Wells creates a straw man here.

    Two: He undermines his own point with his examples. Sure New Zealand had far lower mortality than Germany, where “technocrat” Merkel promoted strict science-first policy and dutiful compliance. But Germany is not an island nation, in fact it is densely populated and landlocked with many bordering countries and lots of cross-border travel. And they still had a significantly lower mortality than the US, which had no national science-first policy and dutiful compliance. In fact, we had a president and his political party and their media mocking science-first policy and dutiful compliance.

    It would seem that when countries do not have natural advantages (such as being an island), the only way to lessen the effects of the virus are through adopting science-first policy and dutiful compliance.

    I call stupid on Wallace-Wells.


  6. Could the answer be a matter of geography?

    An initial outbreak of a similar virus less potent than the one to come. A less deadly version that conferred immunity.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I heard it was just like the flu. Somebody said that back in early 2020. Hmm. Who was that?

    3. I heard it wasn’t spread by human-to-human contact. Who said that?

    4. Not the CDC:
      “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today confirmed that the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) has spread between two people in the United States, representing the first instance of person-to-person spread with this new virus here.”

      “It is going to go away. It is going away.”
      President Trump
      April 3, 2020

    5. That press release was from January 30, 2020.

    6. The CDC tweeted that there was no evidence of human spread on Jan 14, 2020.

    7. And then they had evidence that there was human spread. So what? Jan 14 is before there were many cases in the US. It doesn't excuse what Trump said months later, when the CDC had better information.

    8. Better information = information that the Chinese could no longer deny to the CDC.

    9. Consider the possibility that the Chinese understood as little about the virus as the CDC, at the beginning. WHO investigated and found no support for the idea that China deliberately withheld information from others, nor that the virus escaped from a lab or was manufactured by China. These are unsubstantiated conspiracy theories and part of the cause of current violence against Asians in the US. There is, however, evidence that the first cases in the US came from Europe, not China.

    10. I see the WHO tweeted something about that on 1/14. Not seeing any CDC tweet denying human contact though. Anyway, it was quickly corrected.

  7. It seems to me there might be some fear that focusing on the success of the Asian nations might increase animosity against Asians and increase anti-Asian conspiracy theories, like the one Bill Maher gave air time to a few weeks back (saying that the virus is part of bio-warfare created in a lab in Wuhan).

    When you think about it, every article speculating about why Americans won't wear masks is, in effect, asking why we are different than those Asian nations where it would be unthinkable not to wear a mask. Given the nature of this pandemic, the question shouldn't be why Asians wear masks but why don't we do the smart thing here?

    In America, everyone is born with the right to behave stupidly, even if it hurts others. We tolerate gun stupidity, alcohol and drug stupidity, and now covid stupidity. It is built into our constitution and we cannot enforce public health rules without undermining it. With a competent president, we might have achieved better results with PR campaigns, but we lost that opportunity with the King of Stupid, Donald Trump in office. It isn't going to be hard for future generations to figure out where we went wrong.

  8. "It strikes us as a painfully accurate dreamscape portrait of our false, faux, performative age."

    Objecting to the sexual assault of women is "performative" unless you go out and take violent revenge?

  9. Quentin Tarantino made two Kill Bill movies which features the horrific abuse of Uma Thurman before she went on a revenge-filled killing spree. His portrayal of women in his other films is largely offensive and his films do not appeal to women much because of their violence, something that characterizes films that men enjoy. His brand of feminism seems to be "women can slaughter too." Watching women kill, after being suitably humbled by a man first, is violence-porn aimed at men. Of course Somerby loves Promising Young Woman. It is the same genre of abused woman who engages in violence as revenge but is suitably humbled, so no one thinks women are actually out of control or a threat to men's ongoing dominance. The layering of pseudo-feminism gives permission to the rest of this ugly mess that does nothing to challenge existing attitudes.

    People think it is "edgy" to show women engaging in violence. It isn't. It is catering to men's fantasies and their craving for violence, especially toward women. And men are allowed to enjoy this film because it is so hip about sexual assault, and the main character is an unlikely woman to be doing such things. Just like when innocent looking women (or children) appear unexpectedly sexy. The dynamic is the same.

    Somerby reveals too much about himself when he says he loves this film. And none of it is healthy for our society or his relationships with women in real life. This is a deeply ugly film.

    1. I haven’t seen it, but I don’t think I’d care for it either.

      Somerby seems to like it because he sees it a fantastical depiction of our current culture with its performative imperatives.

      Oscar noms- for the female director, female lead, the female screenplay writer, for best film editing, and best movie.

      Perhaps he was on to something.

    2. "Perhaps he was on to something."

      He thinks he was. You think he was too. What a nice little conservative film society you two could enjoy.

    3. How typical that Cecelia addresses nothing that was said by the comment to which she attaches her opinion that Somerby was on to something. What? She doesn't say.

    4. You mean I didn’t defend a movie that I said that I’m not likely to find interesting even as iconic feminist revenge porn or performative cultural score-settling .

      I leave you to argue with the many non-conservatives who do and who will.

    5. Why do you bother commenting when you have nothing to say?

    6. Yes, that sounds like a good use of your time.

    7. Yes, and just as with the entire blog, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to read it.

  10. Jordan, in the book about slavery, White Over Black, notes that the fear of slave rebellions was proportionate to the white abuse of their slaves not the actual likelihood of such uprisings occurring.

    In the same way, Promising Young Woman requires a motive strong enough to justify the actions of Cassie, its protagonist, as she entraps young men. The film, however, offers only the suicide of Cassie's best friend, in the distant past, to motivate both abandonment of her own medical career and a series of self-defeating actions stalking men in bars.

    This lack of motivation doesn't bother male reviewers of this film, nor does it trouble Somerby. That's because the wrongs done to women by men are obvious to men (even if they themselves do not do such things) and thus any amount of anger expressed as violence by women will seem justified. If this film were written by a man, it might well exemplify the fear of female violence, the fear that women will take revenge if given freedom. Freud called this castration anxiety, but it fits Jordan's idea of guilty recognition that if men were treated as women are, men would take revenge for far less offenses than the ones women are expected to tolerate.

    That is what is going on in this film. It isn't feminist. It isn't enjoyable for women to watch. Like other thrillers and horror films, it gets its power from unconscious fears, but in this case, these are nothing our society should be celebrating. And the benefits to the writer/director are financial, not self-expression. When a woman makes a blockbuster that appeals to men, they are joining men's game, not doing anything to help women. They are catering to men's needs for financial gain. There is a name for this and it is women's oldest profession.

  11. "It's a dreamscape about a person who's fully aware of a great moral outrage—a person who's also able to see that no one else gives a flying fark about the outrage in question."

    When Somerby says that "no one else gives a flying fark" he means that no men care. Women definitely care about these outrages. Cassie, in the film, cares. We don't have the means of stopping them and we don't have the ability to change a system in which most of the power still rests with men, the people who generally perpetrate such outrages.

    Men have the ability to stop sexual assaults against women. That is the point of the nice young man in the film, who confronts his own morals and finds himself wanting. Somerby generalizes from the male unwillingness to stop such violence to saying that no one cares, because women are not anyone, judging by his use of language.

    Somerby is such an asshole. Just as when he says no one cares about black school children, ignoring the parents and teachers who care deeply about those kids. They don't matter, are not anyone, and neither are the women who file complaints, write painful books, staff domestic violence shelters, and engage in politics to seek change. These are the women who are ripped off by the people who made this film, including the female writer/director, who uses a serious issue to make herself seem topical, while catering to men's views -- of course Somerby loves this film. Why wouldn't he?

    1. A much better film, by Amy Poehler, is on Netflix now. It is "Moxie." Somerby wouldn't like it though.

    2. Anonymouse 5:36pm, you can Google the plot of the movie.

      The main character Cassie extracts revenge upon two female characters who were uncaring as to the rape of her friend. Neither character is unrealistic as to their psyches- a friend who is skeptical about it being a rape and a female dean of a medical school.

    3. Yes, that is convenient, making these figures female so that women can be made to share the blame for male violence.

      That movie is fiction. Women do care about this and they have been the prime movers in attempts to address violence against women.

      I have been saying that this is a fantasy that is comforting to guys like Somerby. What you point out changes nothing about that.

      Somerby doesn't give a damn about this kind of violence or any other kind against women. That's why he worked so hard to portray Chanel Miller as deserving of her assault, because she went to a party and drank some booze, just like men do.

      She "exacts" revenge, not "extracts" it. My understanding is that there is a controversial ending. Maybe that's the part Somerby likes?

    4. He never portrayed Chantel Miller a deserving of assault.

      He portrayed both Chantel and Brock of being responsible for their behavior and the university as being responsible for allowing this sort of dangerous level of intoxication that can lead to disinhibited behavior with tragic and irreversible consequences, including death. .

    5. Yes, he felt that her drinking was causal and made a fuss about her not admitting to it.

      If women cannot exercise the same freedom as men, there is a problem in our society. Men need to stop attacking women, and that includes Brock. Her state is irrelevant. If Brock cannot drink without attacking women, he is the one who shouldn't drink, not Miller.

    6. Anonymouse 7:27pm, just think of the two uncaring female characters as being Republicans and as being part of our society in which Cassie must wearily bear up against on trying days.

      That shouldn’t be too hard on your imagination.

    7. So, you're saying that Republican women condone sexual assault?

    8. If it will enable you to get past thinking of flawed female characters as a sexist plot device- sure!

  12. So when the Academy nominated “The Shape of Water” for best picture, Somerby accused the Academy of liberal tribalism. His evidence? The East Coast reviewers didn’t like the movie all that much, and it clearly was intended to mock conservatives. That was Somerby’s theme for what seemed like innumerable posts.

    Here, he takes the reviewers to task for reacting negatively to “Promising Young Woman”, apparently due to their liberal tribalism, whereas the seat of liberal tribalism, the Academy, has nominated this movie for best picture.

    The cognitive dissonance ought to be enough to make one’s head explode.

    1. I don’t where Somerby accused Koiis or Stevens of tribalism, just imperceptive as to what he sees as mimicry of public caring vs the burden and isolation of the real thing.

    2. Sure, Cecelia. That must be why Somerby says shit like this:
      “People who don't actually care—except perhaps about their careers—may have trouble seeing the film this way.”

      Why would those reviewers (part of “the guild” from previous posts) feel compelled to give negative reviews to a film in order to keep their careers going? Think about what Somerby is saying, and has been saying ad infinitum.

    3. Well, sure mh, Somerby thinks of a faux, false, performative age as sheerly being from the tribal inclinations of libbies.

      Conservatives excluded!

      The Academy Awards Committee excluded! (Until he hates an Oscar nominated movie so then they would be included!)

      Yeah, everybody else in the world has no trouble at all declaring their superficiality.

      You know the guy could write the next Pilgrim’s Progress and the only thing you’d concern yourself with is whether he wrote Apollyon as a type of Maddow.

    4. Citing Pilgrim's Progress -- now that's performative!

    5. Very true, Anonymouse 9:51am.

      Bob Ewell as Maddow doesn’t have the same punch.

  13. Yeah it's a big mystery why the UK with its Thatcherist power hungry elite saying a bunch of people should just die messed up the Rona response.

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