November 30, 2007

"Margot at the Wedding"

My review of Noah Baumbach's film "Margot at the Wedding" with Nicole Kidman, Jack Black, Jennifer Jason-Leigh, and John Turturro is in the 12/17/07 issue of The American Conservative. Here's an excerpt:

Few films have more precisely delineated why younger people loathe their Baby Boomer parents' experiments with sexual liberation than Noah Baumbach's painfully autobiographical comedy about his bohemian intellectual parents' 1980s divorce, "The Squid and the Whale." The adults, both writers, calmly set up a fair-sounding joint custody arrangement that has their two children (and family cat) ceaselessly hauled about Park Slope, a literary neighborhood in Brooklyn, but it turns out to be a logistical and emotional catastrophe.

In "The Squid and the Whale," Jeff Daniels won some long-deserved recognition for his hilarious portrayal of Baumbach's father, a pompous "experimental fiction" author and professor given to dinner table pronouncements such as referring to Kafka as "one of my predecessors."

Despite adoring reviews, most critics missed the 2005 film's point: that the actual villain was Baumbach's adulterous mother. They overlooked its central theme -- the destructiveness of female infidelity -- because it's sexist (and therefore unthinkable) to notice that - for obvious reproductive reasons - a wife's cheating is even more destructive for the family than a husband's, although countless human cultures have felt that way.

The irony was that Baumbach's bloviating father was equally clueless about his own nature. In theory, he was an artistic genius above all those deadening bourgeois morals like monogamy. In reality, however, he was a mediocre writer but a faithful husband and reasonably diligent provider who deserved better than cuckoldry.

The younger Baumbach's eagerly awaited new movie, "Margot at the Wedding," with Nicole Kidman as a prominent short story writer and unfaithful wife who inflicts her moral and mental breakdown on her adolescent son when she brings him to her estranged sister's second marriage ceremony, makes his prior film brutally clear.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

16 comments:

SFG said...

His mom probably cheated on his dad. I hate to go the whole childhood route with art because it's so reductionist, but it seems pretty obvious here. Besides, the artist has to get his ideas from somewhere.

Bill said...

I wonder whether baby-boomers' kids are taking longer than their parents to open up artistically because of a stronger sense of shame. From my perspective, my parents' generation had no shame. They told us we could do and be whatever we wanted, and then pretty much ignored us while they went about changing the world.

Divorce and infidelity cut a huge swath through families. What's really unbelievable is how careless people were about the American concept of what a family is. It's as though there was a deliberate movement to destroy it, and I'm starting to realize that, in fact, there was.

A lot of people my age have a pretty deep sense of pessimism. The incongruity between what we were told as children and what the world has offered up in reality has marked us with a pathetic sense of irony.

I still read editorials every now and then, written by boomers mainly, interpreting our experience in ridiculously inaccurate terms. We were "slackers", then dotcom millionaires (like 0.1% of us maybe), and now some even suggest that we actually like skipping from job to job and switching health insurance all the time. Another thing that gets me is hearing conservative boomer men say that guys my age in Iraq are there because they "really believe in the cause." Look: these are my friends, many of them are married with kids and shouldn't have to be soldiers into their late 20s and 30s, and most of them are there because of the money.

The reason we haven't spoken up much about our lives, I'd guess, is that it seems in poor taste to reflect on such a legacy of disappointment. It's just a shame, and you're not supposed to dwell on those things.

SFG said...

Not sure about shame, bill. I do remember the downsizing in the mid-90s as I was a teenager that forever turned me against corporate America.

My parents stayed together and remain together quite happily, so there's no contempt there. I do think the baby boom generation was remarkably selfish.

I don't have any friends in Iraq. I don't know whether I should feel bad that I don't know anyone in the military or happy that none of my friends are in Iraq. I hate this war. I thought it was dumb going in but knew I couldn't do anything to stop it because I don't live in a swing state and have no charisma to convince anybody. But I remember opening up USA Today and seeing a soldier returning from Iraq, and they had a fresh new set of prosthetic legs for him! 'I'll never see myself as a victim', the soldier vowed. I remember hating Bush when I read that. Yeah, seems kind of stupid now.

Jeez. I know when I gave up hope on America. I was arguing with a friend about the Bush-Gore election, and I said the Supremes would decide the case on the merits. He said no, it'll go down party lines, everyone's crooked and they only serve their masters. (I was in my early twenties then.) The verdict came back, 5-4. You were right, I told him. He smiled. We lost touch. I later found out he went to a good law school and is now, I imagine, rich. So the fix on immigration doesn't surprise me anymore.

Reflect on shame? Yeah, I guess we're all supposed to be happy and upbeat. Which I always thought was stupid--better safe than sorry. But, hey, don't make waves, right?

Evil Neocon said...

Steve --

Did you even see Squid and the Whale? The whole point was that the "liberating" experiences of the cheating Mom meant that everyone turned out OK. Even the pervy little brother. That's the whole point. Same point for Margot at the Wedding. Or Sex and Breakfast (partner swapping will save your marriage, yeah right).

Besides we live in a post-monogamy, serial polygamy life where a few powerful men soak up most of the women.

That's the real message of Squid and the Whale -- his Dad was too much of a loser to hang on to even the lackluster wife.

Women of course win by polygamy -- a fraction of a rich man is better than all of an ordinary man (see: Big Love) and the assumption is better genes too. You can certainly see women explicitly reject the ordinary man as not being sexually enough in film, TV, chick-lit etc.

Of course Bill, a few powerful men, and women (the winners in polygamy) ganged up to destroy the family (and it's value, hence the gay marriage deal). If anyone can be married, including men to men, women to women, one man to many women, or a horse, or what have you, the traditional trade of monogamy for a promise of support and lifetime companionship looks dull and stupid. Not something special that allows ordinary men to compete with the A-Listers.

Feminists WANT basically to be Bill Clinton's mistress. That's the desired state.

Even in a female-appealing movie like Spanglish, the Tea Leoni character's affair was presented as consequence free. No movie can ever present female infidelity as destructive in any form, instead of say "sexy" because both the female audience (for any movie about relationships) and the movie people themselves would not allow it.

[Steve is wrong, the movie people (and TV) are hard-left culturally, presenting infidelity, family breakup, and child abandonment for "finding ones' self" as noble and good. You can see the evidence in movies like "A Walk on the Moon" or Spanglish or say "the Unit" on TV. Where the one character has a "sexy affair" with her husband's commanding officer, complete with conspiring to send off her hubby to dangerous missions to enable liasons.

Steve's problem is that he assumes that Spielberg's work from 20 years ago is the Spielberg today, or that he's important in the way that Alan Ball or Neil LaBute are important. Sad to say, the latter two probably have more pull than Spielberg given Hollywood's "cool kid" mentality and lack of any linkage between players and profits. I.E. if a movie is a home-run only the studio benefits, if a movie flops people still got paid.]

Sword of Honor said...

I just finished watching the remake of War of the Worlds (while serving in Iraq), and I noticed the hard-left cultural Marxism take on family there. I suppose in a contrived effort to generate drama and tension, they made the main character a divorced bum whose kids hate him and whose ex-wife is now bearing the child of a richer man. As if having space aliens come to exterminate mankind wouldn't provide enough drama!

This plot device was an annoying and unnecessary distraction from the premise of the film (aliens attack humanity), but it is also illustrative of the relentless war of the liberal Boomers on our culture and society.

I utterly despise the Boomer generation, they selfishly squandered our future, sold us out in every way possible. Many of us only have an inkling of what we have lost.

mrs anonymous said...

Evil neocon, are you ever going to show some hard evidence for this supposed encroaching polygamy or are you just getting this from tv shows and blogs?

Anonymous said...

The only polygamy that I can see is one where there are no commitments or conceptions. Just lots of hook ups with lots of partners, the women holding off on serious relationships until they find a man with sufficient resources or status. The men with sufficient resources attract the majority of women and engage in serial polygamy, going through women consecutively rather than concurrently. First wife, second wife, third wife. Staying married just long enough to grow to hate each other.

I see more and more people just foregoing marriage. More guys being left off as losers by women who are themselves passed over by men worth keeping. Plus, marriage is no bargain for the modern man, especially one hungry for novelty and averse to losing all his stuff.

Although I'm sure that the future America will see more multi-partner couplings in the future. I don't believe that will be the face of American polygamy. Rather, one can expect to see more women making a cold calculus based on the status of the man.

fifi said...

"I utterly despise the Boomer generation, they selfishly squandered our future, sold us out in every way possible. Many of us only have an inkling of what we have lost."

I often vent at Boomers myself, Sword. They were seduced by Cultural Marxism but didn't have to suffer the consequences of living in a society where the adults had abdicated their responsibility to each other, their children and society. But I'd look to Marxism as the source of our current societal ills if I were you. I don't know why the post-WWII generation was so easy to indoctrinate. Although I believe that to them most of their choices were based on what they believed to be liberating new information - i.e. the sexual revolution was a reaction to the supposed rampant despair of housewives who were drugging themselves with valium to endure the misery of being wives and mothers. I've noticed even in popular music that a line about traditional behavior can be used this way as long as the singer is sufficiently mournful. In one song from the 80s, the line "she got married ... she had a baby" was sung in such a way that you knew this must be a bad thing but had to supply your own reasons why. Set to the right music even something so innocent has "He had toast for breakfast" can be made to sound like "The shackles of family life etched deep grooves into his wrists. He would've been happy if he'd just walked away from his nagging wife and spoiled designer label wearing children and into the arms of the free spirited pool boy who winked at him mischievously every Saturday."

The real question is how has it come about that we have been taught to revile our traditional beliefs and cultures. I'm reading about the rather open and pervasive infiltration of our government by Communist operatives from the 1930s onward. They became influential in many government departments including those dealing with public education. And everyone has heard about the plight of writers sympathetic to Communism in the McCarthy era in popular in commentary designed to label traditionalists and patriots as fascists. The irony is that these writers as well as the many government employees targeted by McCarthy were doing exactly what they were accused of doing - trying to overthrow our government and destroy our way of life. To be fair to the Boomer generation, there must have been a concerted effort to eradicate their traditional values via education and pop culture. Those of us who are starting to reject irresponsibility and self-destructiveness disguised as enlightenment have simply been made more resistant to the social contagion of Cultural Marxism through exposure. This has come about because with the passage of time we've been able to see the results (statistics showing children fare the worst as a result of their parents divorcing) and have had a chance to formulate counter arguments to the prevailing dogma.

I've often wondered at the link between the philosophy of extreme selfishness that prevailed in the late 60s and 70s and the campaign to replace traditional western values with collectivism. It has led to odd juxtapositions. For instance, I've met people who believe that most of the 10 Commandments should be ignored but who are also certain that the wages of racism or any type of intolerance should be death. Then there are Christians who are fanatic anti-abortionists but embrace the socialism that undermines the very family structure that enables people to take responsibility for their offspring.

Bill said...

If you want to see some real hostility toward boomers, check out this blog.

I try to understand boomers in the context of the time in which they came of age, mainly because I do not want to resent my parents. As a little kid, and then when my grandparents died, I saw how disruptive that kind of resentment can be.

I am afraid the coming generational changing of the guard - the midpoint of this will probably be 15 years down the road, and the end a few more - is not going to be the smoothest of transitions. I can see a whole lot of complaining, age-discrimination lawsuits, and vengeful politics coming from the boomer side, and an unsympathetic impatience followed by unilateral, unannounced actions on the part of people my age.

Say what you want about the boomers -- at least they make their intentions clear and discuss things (amidst much unnecessary noise, it is true) before they do anything serious. People my age are, in my experience, a lot more likely to eschew dialog and simply do what they think ought to be done.

Bill said...

I don't have any friends in Iraq. I don't know whether I should feel bad that I don't know anyone in the military or happy that none of my friends are in Iraq. I hate this war.

-sfg


If you met the guys who are there, you'd probably find that they are pretty much the same as other guys our age. They've just got a very nasty job, but at least it provides some benefits and guarantees that elude most of the rest of us these days.

One of the things I hear from soldiers when they get home is that they're really worried about how they're going to get by in the civilian world. As much as they wanted to come home, it's a big letdown to many of them.


Reflect on shame? Yeah, I guess we're all supposed to be happy and upbeat. Which I always thought was stupid--better safe than sorry. But, hey, don't make waves, right?


No, we don't make many waves, do we? Even when we were embroiled in America's worst youth crime wave ever back in the early 90s it didn't seem to matter much, did it? But it's getting to the point where we don't really have a choice but to deal with the mess that's piling up on us, so whether we make waves or not, we've got to learn to get things done.

steve wood said...

I utterly despise the Boomer generation, they selfishly squandered our future, sold us out in every way possible. Many of us only have an inkling of what we have lost.

Me, too, sword of honor, and I am a boomer. I find my own generation disgusting and the cultural icons they revere to be mediocre at best and appalling at worst.

However, generationally guilty as I am, I am saddened to see the hopelessness of the comments here and elsewhere. You can't put the genie back in the bottle, but you don't have to celebrate his (or it is "her"?) liberation, either.

And yet, working at a University, I see that most people your age - or perhaps a bit younger - seem to have swallowed boomerist self-indulgence, political correctness and corporatism without a second thought. Is that true, or is it just what they tell me because I'm an old man? I hope it's the latter.

Anonymous said...

EC-I watched Spanglish in spite of the TOTALLY ridiculous premise that there could be a chef anywhere in this country that didn't speak at least some Spanish!

The Boomers introduced the sick idea that the most important role for married men and women WASN'T care of the children, but their own happiness. The kids will be fine, though because as Hillary says, IT TAKES A VILLAGE.

Evil Neocon said...

See above's bit in War of the Worlds, Mrs. Anon. Clearly the protagonist is a failure because a richer man has appropriated his wife. That's in there because Hollywood figured it would work.

Der Spiegel:
http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,485942,00.html

(Presumably those women moving from East Germany to West are not joining Nunneries).

There's also the extremely odd affair of the murdered women. Laci or Staci, or the woman in Ohio. Married to serial philanderers (and their eventual murderers). The cop in Ohio (even before he murdered his ex) took three women off the marriage market (he was involved with all three). Scott Peterson had a girlfriend Amber Frye while his wife was pregnant. The other Peterson was married, what four or five times?

Mayors Tony in LA and Gavin in SF and their many, many mistresses? Bill Clinton's Mistresses?

Or there is the US Census Bureau:

http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/ThematicMapFramesetServlet?_bm=y&-geo_id=01000US&-tm_name=ACS_2006_EST_G00_M00642&-ds_name=ACS_2006_EST_G00_&-_MapEvent=displayBy&-_dBy=040

Which has a fascinating geo-overlay (you can see where marriage is too expensive so that men are priced out of it -- and presumably the women there don't forgo sex either).

Or how about this table:

http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/STTable?_bm=y&-geo_id=01000US&-qr_name=ACS_2006_EST_G00_S1201&-ds_name=ACS_2006_EST_G00_

Note that 35-44 years male is 21,948,xxx vs. 21,943,xxx female same age. Roughly same population though men outnumber women (oversupply). Men never married are 21.6% vs. 16% which is quite significant.

No racial breakdowns :< for never married by sex/age cohorts.

But you asked for data, there it is. I can't find that NY Times article about how wealthy women in NYC were using IVF to have kids with the sperm of some German body builder (despite living with a man in some cases) but that also exists IMHO as a data point.

The shift is large enough to move TV and films. Significant enough to show up in Census data. Significant enough to show up in other countries.

After all, most humans outside of Western Europe in Christianity have been polygamous. American Indians were and remained polygamous until missionaries stamped it out. Same with Polynesians. And Asia (modernizers like Mao or Lee Kuan Yew stamped it out). And Africa. And Australia. And Europe before Christianity (as contemporaneous accounts show, from Tacitus to Germanicus, to Caesar himself).

Bill said...

And yet, working at a University, I see that most people your age - or perhaps a bit younger - seem to have swallowed boomerist self-indulgence, political correctness and corporatism without a second thought. Is that true, or is it just what they tell me because I'm an old man? I hope it's the latter.

-steve wood


lol

See? You boomers really don't have much of a sense of irony. Young folks can make solemn pronouncements that they don't believe in one bit and to them it's actually amusing.

Have you ever seen those soldiers on TV lying so earnestly about how wonderful things are in Iraq? You do know when it's all done they are sitting around having a good laugh about it, right?

Have you ever watched South Park? I'm not a big fan, but it does say a thing or two about my generation's sense of humor. You might notice that in South Park there is nothing lamer than people who actually believe in that politically correct crap we all have to say.

Unfortunately, the flip side of this is that these kids think you're out of your mind if you actually stand up and tell the truth, and usually they will turn their backs on anyone who does. For all the sarcasm, irony and hidden irreverence, I think we're a bit timid and fearful of our parents yet.

We're kind of a generation of whipped dogs, if you ask me.

steve wood said...

See? You boomers really don't have much of a sense of irony. Young folks can make solemn pronouncements that they don't believe in one bit and to them it's actually amusing.

Actually, it was my generation - or, rather, the generation just ahead of me, the first wave of boomers - who started the tendency to drench everything in irony. But, anyway, I'm glad to hear that your lot don't actually believe that crap.

However, I must say that the Gen Xers I work with, well into their 30s and some now 40, do not yet seem to be showing much tendency to rebel against political correctness even though many are now in positions of authority. Indeed, they are often among its most vigorous defenders. (Admittedly, the MOST vigorous defenders are those obnoxious early boomers.)

Also, the sort of ironic detachment you describe as characterizing youth today is really pretty decadent. Fun while it's going on, mind you, but not something that builds great civilizations.

nick said...

The shift is large enough to move TV and films.

I agree with "evil neocon" that there has been creeping polygamy and that the values in mass media content are thoroughly polygamist, but he has the causation backwards and it goes back much farther than the Baby Boomers. TV and film have always promoted polygamy -- and Broadway before that. Almost any "Golden Age" film , for example, strained against the censors to promote the virtues of female promiscuity -- or at least the virtues of women putting themselves in the way of temptation. The villain and the buffoon was the guy who worried about the whereabouts of his wife. TV and film have almost always portrayed male sexual jealousy as an evil thing. The only novelty of the Boomer media was to give the beta males pornography to help relieve some of their suffering, but further degrading the family.

Why have Broadway, film, and TV almost invariably promoted polygamy? Two main reasons: First, because artists and musicians are better seducers. Better seducers will naturally prefer polygamy. Second, because TV and film in particular are capital intensive. Facilities and productions are funded by rich men who would like to translate their money into sexual success. Their content naturally reflects the attitudes of their investors. Mass media values have been the values of the richest and most powerful 1% or so of men in the media business.

Most of the "Golden Age" generation listened more to their preachers than to their films, and thus was largely was able to resist the siren songs of the media barons. But the Boomer generation has the ignomony of having been thoroughly seduced by film and TV. With the relative decline of those media the trend is probably now starting to reverse, but it may take many generations to undo the damage.

Monogamy may be saved by the Internet and the cell phone. The Internet because we won't be getting as many of our ideas in the future from a narrow range of capital-intensive media. The cell phone because what Boomers see as the bizarrely obsessive "checking up" on the whereabouts of sexual partners many times a day allows partners to have much greater knowledge of each others' behavior throughout the day. TV-parroting boomers went on and on about how spouses should "just trust" each other, and as a result many ended up being quite untrustworthy. Hopefully, subsequent generations will tell the boomers parroting their mass media perversions to go to hell. It will one day be considered normal to check up on your wife at least five times a day, and negligence not to check up on her at least during lunch and any time the partners are separated at evening or night. As a result, in the future marriage may once against start to resemble an enforceable pact of faithfulness, and men will actually start finding it worthwhile to get married again. But except for a lucky few "obsessive cellphone stalkers" that outcome is still well into the future.