Defending David Edelstein
I don’t suppose it will do embattled film critic David Edelstein much good to have words in his defense published in a conservative magazine, but what is happening to him is grotesque, and ought to scare the hell out of all of us.
Edelstein is a big-deal film critic, and has been for years. These days he writes primarily for New York magazine, but also contributed film reviews to NPR’s Fresh Air, and to CBS Sunday Morning. Last week, when Italian filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci died, Edelstein made a wisecrack on social media making fun of a scandalous scene in the director’s film Last Tango In Paris, in which Marlon Brando’s character uses butter for sexual lubrication:
It wasn’t a funny joke. Edelstein quickly retracted it and apologized. But it was too late. People howled for his firing. Actress Martha Plimpton, repeating a false claim that actress Maria Schneider was actually raped by Brando in this scene, demanded Epstein’s head. Fresh Air, hosted by the insufferable Terry Gross, cut Edelstein loose immediately. All his years of contributing to the show meant nothing. No word yet from New York on what it will do, or from CBS.
Is this how it’s going to be now? Edelstein, 59, is one of the most distinguished film journalists in America, but after one lame crack on social media, he’s facing professional destruction. Andrew O’Hehir writes about this in Salon:
Edelstein’s social media defenders, who are mostly but not entirely internet film dudes in the 50-and-up set, have made things significantly worse with a lot of outraged breast-beating about Stalinist thuggery and the feminist thought police.
But that’s exactly what this is! What else are you going to call it when a man who has spent decades building his reputation as a film critic, is facing instant obliteration on the basis of a single remark, for which he quickly apologized, because it offended feminists? O’Hehir more or less defends Edelstein here, but why on earth does he feel obliged to attack men who have come to Edelstein’s defense? Have they made things “significantly worse” by pointing out that these feminist Defarges have wildly overreacted? Significantly worse for who? Not David Edelstein, surely. Maybe significantly worse for those on the left who feel obliged to defend Social Justice Warriors.
O’Hehir says that he thinks the controversy has something to do with “the messy process of generational change,” and that Terry Gross might have wondered if Edelstein was a “Dinosaur White Guy.” More:
Is any of that fair or reasonable? Is an intelligent, funny writer who has seen every major movie made since the birth of the medium, who has never been afraid of offering his own irascible opinions, being sacrificed on the altar of SJW sensitivity? Or was all of this just the inexorable turning of history’s wheel, which will grind us all to dust sooner or later?
Hell, I really don’t know.
What a weaselly stance. I can’t read O’Hehir’s mind, but I can’t help wondering if he is a) afraid of the leftist mob turning on him (he’s executive editor of Salon), and b) at 57 — two years younger than Edelstein — he has been so marinated in progressive cant about the evil of white men, and the virtue of youth, that he doubts himself.
His point, though, about generational change, is worth taking seriously. The other day David Brooks wrote a column about how older liberals — people like Edelstein and O’Hehir — are now facing off against young progressives who are “cultural Marxists” with Jacobin passions. Brooks:
When the generations clash, the older generation generally retreats. Nobody wants to be hated and declared a moral pariah by his or her employees. Nobody wants to seem outdated. If the war is between the left and Trumpian white nationalism, nobody wants to be seen siding with Trump.
Plus, the militants have more conviction. In the age of social media, virtue is not defined by how compassionately you act. Virtue is defined by how vehemently you react to that which you find offensive. Virtue involves the self-display of a certain indignant sensibility, and anybody who doesn’t display that sensibility is morally suspect.
Who made the call to fire Edelstein from Fresh Air? Terry Gross is the host and co-executive producer. She is 67. I couldn’t find an age for the other co-executive producer, Danny Miller, but in photographs he appears to be around the same age. Did someone at NPR national order the firing too?
David Edelstein is not Harvey Weinstein or Les Moonves. David Edelstein did not grab, molest, assault, or even come on to anybody. He made a somewhat tasteless remark about a movie scene on social media — and apologized. It is terrifying to think that none of the volumes of film criticism and journalism he has amassed over decades in the craft means more than the single snarky line that cost him his job — and possibly his career.
Is this social justice? Is this really the world we want to live in? Hard-line progressives and gutless liberals are allowing it to happen. If they can knock off a writer as substantial and as talented as David Edelstein over an extremely minor infraction like this, nobody is safe from the illiberal Left.