Letters from the week of January 22, 2004

Matt Toney

The critic critiqued: Robrt L. Pela seems threatened by the idea of a popular film review service that bypasses professional critics. What is he so afraid of? A cultural dictatorship of the proletariat? Surely that already exists in the research groups and formulaic, bottom-line driving values of corporate Hollywood. By promoting awareness of a broader selection of films, Andrew Ramsammy's organization is, whatever its biases, contributing to a more diverse public appetite.

Pela's own biases are evident, if peculiar, from someone advocating critical thinking skills. He expresses astonishment that anyone might be dissuaded from seeing a film because of a poor critical review (can he really be this naive?) and engages in a fashionable if incoherent equivocation about value judgments, incredulously asking Ramsammy if he thinks that either of two opinions (popular and critical) are "right," asserting that movies are neither "good" nor "bad" but merely of different subjective value to different viewers.

On the other hand, Pela writes disparagingly of popular opinion ("Do we really care what laypeople thing about films?") and implies that the opinions of professional critics are superior because of their training. Someone should explain to Mr. Pela that by qualifying the critics' opinions with adjectives like "informed," he is in effect electing them to a position of "rightness" above those of "Middle America."

Pela seems to believe that people (as a general class) are stupid and biased, yet seems to think that the institutions they create (i.e., academic film studies and the media which hire its graduates) transcend these foibles rather than enshrine and inculcate them.

Exceptions notwithstanding, many critics fall into two general camps (polarized in the film industry but overlapping the fine arts): the touts, whose bland approval seems conditional upon commercial viability as much as anything else; and the knee-jerk iconoclasts, whose addiction to bad taste and perversity exists primarily as a reaction to "convention" rather than anything in its own right, but paradoxically is so well established as to constitute a dominant convention as "counterculture." Though both are half-witted, the former is at least inoffensively so, and serves a comprehensible economic function. The latter, often tinged with a sophomoric rebelliousness, is forever twitting its metaphorical parents.

We see much of this in New Times' arts reviews, whose authors seem to be writing for each other rather than the general readership, and who seem obsessed with demonstrating their cynical wit (generally unsuccessfully) rather than enlightening the public. But to be a genuine "renegade" in this society means judging things on their own merits rather than adhering to the dogmas of either the established church or its nonconformist offshoot.

Mark Adkins

The Doctor Is Out

Of two minds: Dr. Brian Finkel was convicted of taking advantage of vulnerable women ("No Choice," Paul Rubin, January 8). Was he, who'd called himself a "servant of women," a sort of split personality?

I heard him testify at his trial that having an abortion is likely "the most difficult decision a woman ever makes." He said he'd lecture abortion repeaters because "one abortion is enough in my opinion for any woman." But he'd do four or five abortions on the same woman "if circumstances demanded it."

Finkel said he'd estimate gestational age by looking at "the fetal head" on ultrasound, then after the abortion would look for the "fetal parts" and weigh them. Finkel said he was like any emergency room physician, not a family-practice doctor, and "abortion patients aren't like regular OB-GYN patients."

If he was in the trenches for freedom of abortion, was he also shell-shocked from providing them?

Dexter Duggan

Poor treatment: I just had to write you about your article in New Times. It sure pissed me off. Not at you, but how much of a hypocrite Brian Finkel is!

It sounds to me like Dr. Finkel was on his best behavior for this portrayal of his bedside manner!

I had an abortion performed by him around 1999, too, and mine went nothing like the cutie with the big rock on her hand.

What Dr. Finkel did was nothing illegal, but his treatment of me in a time of utmost vulnerability was so unprofessional and degrading.

Name withheld by request

Aural Intercourse

Genitalia on my mind: Why, why, why do you and so many of your fellow movie "critics" find it necessary to inflict your own preoccupation with sexual deviancy on the rest of us ("Upper Middle Earth," Gregory Weinkauf, December 18)?

Why does a giant spider represent a vagina? Why is a Fell Beast a phallic extension?

Do you honestly believe that J.R.R. Tolkien or Peter Jackson were thinking (consciously or otherwise): "Sure it's good, but I think we need some sexually explicit ambiguity in the action scenes. A couple of monsters that look like genitalia should do it."

If a Fell Beast is a phallic symbol, then what is a giraffe? If Shelob having saliva in her terrifying mouth represents a vagina, then is the same true for a St. Bernard?

Maybe, instead of analyzing this movie (and many others) with the Freudian eye of someone so grossly affected by the sexual saturation of this world, you could take a step back and appreciate entertainment (and life in general) without a sexual subtext. You may find it refreshing.

Jeremy Langworthy
Via e-mail

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