July 5, 2007

WASP vs Jewish elitism

One aspect of Metropolitan that I obviously left out in the post below is that the college freshmen characters belong to what one of them calls the "Urban Haute Bourgeoisie," a humanizing term for WASPy preppies. Fascinated by this movie (and by Barcelona, which I just saw), I've been reading lots of commentary on Stillman's work, as well as interviews with him. One thing that really seems to stick in some people's craw is the audacity he had to only portray well-off WASPs -- and in a human light! Not as the diabolical rapists and murderers you'd expect them to be, judging from their appearances on Law & Order. Stillman, in his defense, cites Samuel Johnson's suggestion that one should write about what one knows from personal experience, which in the director's case would be the UHB.

Another famous director who writes "talky," witty dialogue for privileged upper-middle class Manhattanites is Woody Allen, but he doesn't seem to draw the ire of as many critics with his own brand of "classism." In interviews, he readily admits that he is only capable of depicting well-off Manhattanites because that's what he knows from experience. The only pronounced differences are that Allen's casts feature a far greater number of Jewish characters, and that Stillman's movies are more socially conservative. Either could plausibly account for the discrepancy between reactions to the respective director's emphasis on Jewish vs WASPy urban elites: both WASP ethnicity and caring about rules and manners are out of fashion.

But regardless of what one thinks of the movies themselves, and focusing as some critics do only on which elite ethnic group and class is being depicted -- whose characters are more clich├ęd by now? Well-to-do Jewish professionals inhabiting the expensive Upper West Side have been a staple in movies and TV shows for several decades already, so a peek into the lives of WASPs is something of a breath of fresh air. Don't get me wrong -- I like a lot of Woody Allen's movies, and I think it's silly to level charges of classism against a work of art. But if we're going to look at which director tends to receive more pardons for elitism and insularity of viewpoint, let's get real.

(Warning: any chauvinist comments will be deleted, whether anti-Semitic or "pro-Semitic.")

5 comments:

  1. Amazing how many anti-Semites are out there. I've been getting a few of them lately.

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  2. One thing that really seems to stick in some people's craw is the audacity he had to only portray well-off WASPs -- and in a human light! Not as the diabolical rapists and murderers you'd expect them to be, judging from their appearances on Law & Order.


    Here is the NYPD's real most-wanted list. My God, look at all of those WASP's.

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  3. I don't know what reviews you are basing your post on. I don't think there was/is any ire against Stillman. Only that it's been 10 freaking years since he made the last one... Please please please let him make more movies!

    The class disconnect is more apparent in Metropolitan than in Woody Allen movies or in Stillman's other movies for obvious reasons: The characters spend a lot in deliberately anachronistic rituals, dressing in clothes from 100 years ago, listening to music from 50 years ago, imagining themselves in the world of Tolstoy and Jane Austen. They are also fresh out of prep boarding school and have not entered the job market, and at thus superficially the furthest removed that they will ever be from the the majority of their peers. (The characters in the Last Days of Disco may be not all be paying the rent themselves, but they do have jobs).

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  4. Your right that "ire" wasn't the right word... glib condescension, I guess. Or barely concealed contempt...

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  5. Every Jewish movie buff I know absolutely adores Stillman. Just sayin'..

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