Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Exit Siegel Stage Left

The New Republic has canned cultural critic Lee Siegel after he anonymously wrote responses defending himself on his TNR blog. If you're a media geek, you already know this. If you're not, and you care, the curt public dismissal is here.

I've never been a fan of Siegel's work, though there's something sad about this development, the way he took up his own cause with such fevered egomania. One of his comments ran like this (remember, this is Siegel writing about Siegel, but unbeknownst to the readers):
How angry people get when a powerful critic says he doesn't like their favorite show! Like little babies. Such fragile egos. Siegel accuses Stewart of a "pandering puerility" and he gets an onslaught of puerile responses from the insecure herd of independent minds. I'm well within Stewart's target group, and I think he's about as funny as a wet towel in a locker room. Siegel is brave, brilliant, and wittier than Stewart will ever be. Take that, you bunch of immature, abusive sheep.
This is particularly ridiculous because of the magnitude of the delusion. Wittier than Jon Stewart? I've never laughed at a single thing Siegel has written. Honestly, I didn't know I was supposed to have.

He's been more responsible for the rolling of my eyes. He could have defended himself with something like, "Siegel has sent more eyes rolling than stoned undergraduates." I don't mean to kick a guy when he's down, but the most egregious example of his work, and the first I remember encountering, was a review of Eyes Wide Shut in a 1999 issue of Harper's. You remember Eyes Wide Shut, the interminable, cripplingly austere, Kidman-and-Cruise-infested whimper that ended Stanley Kubrick's brilliant career? Well, Siegel thought it was a masterpiece, and his review included this classic line: "...the movie begins with a shot of Kidman's back and her unforgettable ass." Now that's criticism!

But the real topper is elsewhere, and I'll stop here (I'm not even getting into his diary on Slate a few years back, less from a sense of mercy and more because I only have so much time). This is still perhaps the greatest poser sentiment I've ever read. I italicize the triple axel of nonsense that ends the routine, since that's the moment that sticks in my mind after all these years:
Pairs proliferate throughout the film, reminders of our double natures. A sculpture in Ziegler's house, seen at the beginning of the film, is of two figures, a winged one bending over another without wings; people lift both their arms and raise both their hands; there are symmetrical doors and coffee cups; in Ziegler's billiard room, you see two pineapples, a perfect image of the banal duality of our desires.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

There have been a lot of these lately. Glenn Greenwald jumps to mind. I think it's surprising to a lot of people that the internet is not as anonymous as many people think.

As for his criticism, isn't most art criticism sort of undermined by its nature? The whole point is to look at a piece of art (painting, movie, song, whatever) and describe what the artist was thinking when he created it. And really, there's no way to tell what he was thinking, or even if he was thinking about anything when he created it.

I read a piece -- probably linked by you -- about why Wes Anderson's movies were better when he wrote with Owen Wilson. And they cited to some particular moment in Rushmore, and asked why the character did that. And Anderson said he didn't know, it was just supposed to be funny. And then Wilson jumped in and described the deeper meaning behind it.

So if the writers and directors can't agree on what a scene means, what hope is there for the rest of us?

So I think most art criticism seems to venture into some sort of Freudian self-analysis. The problem is when the analyst is so narcissistic that he/she begins to believe that his absurd ideas, which have no basis in anyone else's reality, are actually reality. "Yes," shrieks the critic, "These pineapples can only mean sexual banality!"

It seems logical that that type of person would use a sock puppet to dogmatically defend his own posts.

-- Matt

7:08 PM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

When the Police were starting out in England in the late 1970's, Stewart Copeland (the drummer) also wrote concert and record reviews (under a different name) for some music magazine at the time. He would write these amazing reviews of Police shows and singles, saying they were the greatest band in years, etc. Worked for them.

12:31 PM  

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