03 Jan 2009

I Don't Like Lee Siegel

Two days before 2009, I read a review of the movie Revolutionary Road by Lee Siegel at the WSJ Online. Titled Why Does Hollywood Hate the Suburbs?, the article was not so much a review as it was yet another example of Siegel's partisan asshatery. I wrote the following response (no, it's not really a review) before learning that only with a $103/year subscription can one post comments. I was a bit ticked, but I really can't stay mad at any newspaper trying to make money; there's nothing about LiveJournal that says "fourth estate."

I find this article needlessly divisive. (Many of the comments, as well, are ugly examples of partisan stereotyping and generalizing. Dare I say name calling breeds name calling?)

Lee, you hide your sneer behind a slanted analysis of cultural history that is at least accurate in its origin, but it's peppered so with cynicism and anti-intellectualism that I felt like I was reading Rush Limbaugh's subtle doppelganger. At the end of the day, it seems all you want to do is lambast the liberals and convince everyone that they started it.

You say, "Art and intellect are solitary vocations, and their practitioners often require a common enemy to sustain the lonely effort," and yet you are clearly a reader and a writer, a person with an intellect (you use words like excoriate and anomie, you hold three degrees from Columbia University, and you have written for publications like Harper's, The Nation, and The New Republic, amongst others), so I ask you, what common enemy sustains you? And with whom do you share it?

Either you except yourself from the so-called solitary practitioners of art and intellect (which might suggest that you meant to say, "Liberals are lonely bastards and need something to hate", but, because you're writing for WSJ Online, you need to pull your punches a little) or you admit to sharing Hollywood and the liberals at large as an enemy in common with your fellow conservatives.

You go on to say, "The suburbs were the embodiment of that period's fashionable existential fear: 'inauthenticity.'" Your characterization of said fear as a disease limited to the lilly-livered liberal intellectuals having both the time and inclination to infect themselves with it (yes, I'm extrapolating on your use of the word "fashionable") is misleading. Certainly, the basic human desire for connection and individual recognition is taken to angst-inspiring heights in the work of some (little of which I have a taste for), but to dismiss suburb-phobia as superficial in its source is to misunderstand the human condition.

What I find most glaringly ironic about your piece is its title, which suggests that Hollywood is somehow the source of suburb-phobia... The Hollywood you speak of has never been and never will be a true originator of culture; a more likely (albeit still incredibly simplified) analogy would be that of a sponge: it absorbs the sentiments and desires of the American public in an attempt to reach the widest audience and make the most money. No movie exec would openly promote a cultural agenda that alienates roughly half of the American public. Even allowing for a moment your hypothesis that Hollywood has aims beyond box office returns, that Hollywood does hate the suburbs and has been railing against them with dogmatic fervor since the 60s, what does it say that the American people keep listening?

Could it be that there's something about the suburbs that bores you, too? Or do you suffer the metropolis of New York City for professional reasons alone?