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Comments: Week of August 11, 2008

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1. The last “Comments” section was devoted largely to “Escape From the Holy Shtetl” (July 21), Mark Jacobson’s profile of Gitty Grunwald, the young woman who is fighting the Satmar community for custody of her child, and based on the still-raging comments section on nymag.com, we could easily do that again this week. The volume of responses generated by that story is now roughly nine times greater than the story that held the previous high mark (that, by the way, was Testing Horace Mann [April 7], Gabriel Sherman’s exploration of a teacher-student dispute at the elite private school). But we will spare you those ongoing hostilities in favor of the rather surprising bellicosity directed at movie critic David Edelstein for daring to write a few less-than-complimentary things about The Dark Knight (The Culture Pages: Bat Out of Hell,” July 21). Perhaps it could be taken as a sign of a civic health that people engage in such passionate debate about movies, although the name-calling got a little out of hand. It also seemed funny-sad that more than a few of the most aggrieved readers had not yet seen the movie themselves but were simply enraged at Edelstein for spoiling the party atmosphere. Among those joining the assault was somebody who identified himself as the brother of the film’s director, Christopher Nolan, and as part of his critique, he actually counted the number of hyphens Edelstein used in his review. Most of the negative remarks were broader, such as: “By destroying this film you have destroyed the very essence of what cinema stands for.” Edelstein did have his supporters, including this one: “The ironic thing is that Edelstein’s review isn’t all that negative. He seems for the most part to like The Dark Knight, but did point out some of what he felt were the film’s shortcomings technically and artistically, as any constructive review should do.” On nymag.com’s The Projectionist blog, Edelstein countered with an eloquent defense of the role of the critic in the Internet age: “Why—apart from narcissistic injury—do I respond to the abuse? Because there has been a lot of chatter in the last few years that criticism is a dying profession, having been supplanted by the democratic voices of the Web. Not to get all Lee Siegel on you, but the Internet has a mob mentality that can overwhelm serious criticism. There is superb film writing in blogs and discussion groups—as good as anything I do. But there are also thousands of semi-literate tirades that actually reinforce the Hollywood status quo, that say: ‘If you do not like The Dark Knight, you should be fired because you do not speak for the people.’ Well, the people don’t need to be spoken for. And a critic’s job is not only to steer you to movies you might not have heard of or that died at the box office. It’s also to bring different, much-needed perspectives on blockbusters like The Dark Knight.


2. Mostly through keeping quiet, the once-despised Richard Nixon was, by the end of his life, practically hailed as an elder statesman. Judging from the reaction to Amy Wilentz’s profile of another ex-president and the shadow he casts on the current race (Who’s Afraid of Jimmy Carter?,” July 28), it seems that Carter’s outspokenness has denied him a similar fate. Amid a few expressions of admiration, the commenters on nymag.com kicked him around like a rag doll: “A dismal president … Recent history has not been kind to President Jimmy Carter, and I suspect that long-term history will be even worse … Jimmy Carter is what you get when you tie colossal ego to unfettered sanctimony.” No credit for presciently trying to lead the country away from reliance on oil? Well, yes, finally, one reader piped up: “Would all the naysayers please view the video of Carter in 1977 addressing the nation on an impending energy crisis and explain how he was anything but a brilliant visionary? In 100 years he will be remembered as a gentle giant of the twentieth century.”

3. Most readers intuit the usefulness of actually reading a story before posting a comment about it online, though sometimes this basic guideline goes unheeded, as it was recently by someone claiming to be a member of the Spartan Warriors, the gang of street fighters that is the subject of Stephen Rodrick’s Spartan Warriors in the YouTube Age (July 28). At first, the gentleman who calls himself Science wrote: “Oi! Great article, thank you for depicting us correctly. We will continue sparring for our benefit and your enjoyment.” Apparently, that wasn’t really what he meant, though, and not long afterward, he posted a decidedly different opinion: “Uh, sorry. I must retract my last comment. Coasting on the high of finally getting some ‘recognition,’ I, trusting that you had our best interest at heart, did not read the article and posted the above ‘thank you’ response. Unfortunately, after actually reading your Post-it of half-truths, belittling statements, and campy comments, we, the unorganized paramilitary bunch of starving hobo thugs, led by an antisocial sociopath, cannot endorse this article.”


4. In Is Arranged Marriage Really Any Worse Than Craigslist? (April 4, 2005), Anita Jain (pictured) wrote about the unusual balance she was trying to strike between the New York dating scene and the Indian custom of arranged marriages. The article has led to a book, Marrying Anita: A Quest for Love in the New India, just published by Bloomsbury, that chronicles Jain’s decision to leave the city and search for a husband in New Delhi—a city that, she says, “doesn’t have the same quantum of craziness as New York in terms of dating, but it’s not far away.”

Please send e-mails to: comments@nymag.com


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