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Comments: Week of August 9, 2010

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1. What to make of James Franco? In last week’s cover story, Sam Anderson tried to untangle the actor–artist–writer–professional student (“The James Franco Project,” August 2). It was called, variously, “epic … this tome of an ode” by Andrew Goldstein and Emma Allen at Artinfo, “meaty, if slightly adoring” by Hillary Reinsberg at blog Crushable, and even reminiscent of Gay Talese’s classic Esquire profile, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” by a few nymag.com commenters, who were impressed by how much Anderson could wring out of such little direct access to Franco. The article left readers debating many questions, starting with: Is Franco actually talented? “I still hold that his work in Pineapple Express was the finest comic performance since Charlie Chaplin’s name was in lights,” wrote reader Anne Siebenhoven, and many agreed about Franco’s acting abilities. But his other activities drew less praise. “No one seems to be arguing that Franco’s an especially good writer, or artist; no one thinks that he would be allowed to pursue four separate postgraduate degrees if he weren’t also a movie star. What fascinates us is his willingness to do it all, and the fact that the results are so bizarre,” wrote Sady Doyle at The Atlantic’s website. Others debated what to make of the article’s opening scene, which takes place in a men’s room. Steve Delahoyde at Mediabistro’s UnBeige called it “weird” and continued, “what’s more, it’s difficult to tell whose weirdness it is, Franco’s or Anderson’s.” “This strange transparency [in Franco’s work], in which we see all of Franco’s effort, is by design, just like letting the reporter follow him into the bathroom,” offered Irin Carmon at Jezebel. “Franco is demystifying the face that could have allowed him to coast through life, in the bathroom or when he puts a prosthetic penis on his face for his short film Dicknose in Paris.” “Why did Franco invite a reporter into the bathroom?” asked Kate Moser Miller at the New York Press. “Was that him trying to come out?” Which brings us to the third question that dominated commentary on Anderson’s story: Is Franco gay? “Not sure if he’s for real, pretty sure he’s gay though,” opined a commenter on nymag.com. “What we’re seeing in Franco is one of the first, if not the first, instance where an ostensibly straight actor is so boldly toying with the public perception of his sexuality—for cool points,” wrote the bloggers at Queerty. And the speculation about his sexual orientation prompted Molly Fischer of the New York Observer to grill Yale professor Michael Warner on Franco’s interest in queer theory: “ ‘I’ve certainly noticed Franco’s courage in taking not just one gay role, but a slew of them,’ ” Warner tells her, avoiding the question of his sexuality but agreeing with Anderson’s assessment that Franco’s interest seemed to go beyond just playing gay roles. “ ‘There is a broader queer interest at work.’ ”

2. The Harlem political landscape, dominated for the past 40 years by Representative Charlie Rangel, is undergoing a momentous change, as detailed in a feature by Chris Smith (“Knocking on Harlem’s Door,” August 2). The article (coming as it did just before the House ethics panel brought thirteen charges against Rangel last Thursday) touched off a debate about politics in Harlem. “There’s not one person who can say Harlem (and its changing demographic) will be worse off with Rangel’s departure. At this point he’s out for himself, not the party, not the city, and certainly not the people who live in his district,” said one commenter on nymag .com. Said another, “While Bloomberg, Schumer, and the Dems throw Rangel overboard, someone needs to explain to New Yorkers how the money Rangel got for the city will continue. The Post wants Charlie gone, but they have yet to tell us who can move millions of dollars from Washington to Manhattan.”


3. Andrew Goldman’s article exploring the duality of billionaire David Koch, affluent New York patron of the arts and, at least indirectly, the tea party (“The Billionaire’s Party,” August 2), touched a nerve among the online commentariat. “He may have never attended a tea party,” wrote one commenter, “but his money has funded them. It’s good business. Of course this family has done some good things with their money. But that does not outweigh the damage they are doing to our democracy.” Koch’s positive view of global warming tipped off another set of angry responses. “Unfortunately, Koch’s pollution really is heating the planet, and the consequences are grave,” wrote Brad Johnson at ThinkProgress’s Wonk Room blog. “The IPCC analysis of global warming’s impact on agriculture found that even if destructive changes in extreme events or the spread of pests and diseases are ignored, agricultural yields will decline in the poorer regions of the world under relatively minor warming. Quite simply, Koch’s happy scenario of a greenhouse planet comfortably sustaining human civilization is not based in fact.

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