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"Feminazis," and the return of the son of the bride of Juno

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I swore I wasn't going to belabor this any longer after my posts a couple of weeks ago (1 and 2 and 3 and 4), but the debate is, if anything, picking up steam as we get closer to the Oscars.

A week ago today, the media blog for the National Review Online seized upon what we journalists call "the nut graf" of my original "Juno" essay -- "As an unapologetically old-school feminist, the father of a soon-to-be-teenage daughter, a reporter who regularly talks to actual teens as part of his beat and a plain old moviegoer, I hated, hated, hated this movie" -- and hid behind the rantings of Rush Limbaugh to brand me a "feminazi," which was then defined as "those who seek to maximize the number of abortions performed, period, as though each abortion were good in and of itself."

I would love, love, love to debate this fellow (who missed my Ebert reference in that construction and thought I was just being self-important), but Kevin D. Williamson, who thinks I'm "humorless (and, oddly enough, simultaneously humourous)," is pathetic in his puffed-up, narrow-minded, right-wing bravado and, oddly enough, simultaneously cowardly: There's no email link for him on the site, and no way to post comments to his blog. Hey, buddy: You know where to find me!

On the other side of the ledger -- and a review of the 84 comments I've posted (and I've posted them all) will show that people have pretty much been split 50/50, pro vs. con -- I've seen quite a few more well-written critical assaults on the film from blogs of late, with two of the best coming from Miki Yamashita and Leah Hennen. (The most eloquent professional pans of the film have come from David Edelstein in New York magazine and on public radio's "Fresh Air." Edelstein has long been my second favorite film critic after my colleague and hero Roger Ebert, who is only 99.9 percent right most of the time -- his championing of "Juno" as the movie of the year stands as one of his rare major gaffes, but nobody's perfect, even Roger.)

Anyway, why am I returning to this topic again? Well, it's because "Juno" has at least accomplished one thing that great art often does: It has prompted people to start talking (and in some cases screaming) once again about one of the most significant debates of our era. Here is a recent email I received that prompted me to further focus my own thoughts and expand on what I was originally trying to say.

Dana Stevens' recent Slate column on Juno drew my attention to your review of the soundtrack. I have to side with Stevens in my assessment of the film. It was fun, not great; and the dialogue is quite annoying. Likewise, I agree with your implication that anyone who actually believes teens talk like this really doesn't know any teens.

Still, I have a question, and a few comments.

You say that, "As an unapologetically old-school feminist" you hated this
movie. I've read your column, and specifically this comment, twice and
still can't figure out what you mean. Is Juno's, a teenager who should not
be having a baby, opting against an abortion not "old-school" enough for
you? Either I missed something or I don't understand "old-school"
feminism. I'm asking sincerely, what do you mean?

Also, I believe the caricature of a naïve, religious teenager protesting
outside the abortion clinic is quite appropriate for this movie. I grew up
in suburban Kansas. Believe it or not, even there, violent lunatics did not
constantly mob the local abortion clinic. In fact, more often than not
chanting protester like Juno's Su-Chin.

It's fair to dislike Juno and its miserable Moldy Peaches. Still, I think
you misunderstood the film.


Robert Seefeldt
St. Louis, Mo

And here is my response:


Robert -- Thanks for reading, and for taking the time to write.

What I was trying to say, and perhaps I was not clear enough about this and/or compressed or assumed too much, is that Juno's glib, seemingly off-hand dismissal of abortion does a disservice to the many women who agonize over that decision and the many people who work to provide that option, sometimes at considerable risk. There is no discussion in the film about why this character did not make that choice -- a choice that, even now, is only ever one Supreme Court justice's vote away from being taken away. Screenwriter Diablo Cody considers herself "a postfeminist" -- this means she has accepted the victories won by the feminist movement and moved beyond that, to to the point where she happily worked in Minneapolis as a stripper. She contended that this act of pleasing men with her sexuality empowered her, because she was in control of her own exploitation. By old-school feminist, I meant that I think exploitation is still exploitation, and that we cannot accept as a given that women will have a choice about ending a pregnancy.

I did not mean to imply, as the National Review recently said of me in a blog on its site, that I "want women to have as many abortions as possible" (and yes, they actually said that, in branding me "a feminazi").

Finally, I objected to the glib, superficial, and ultimately insulting portraits of both the women inside the abortion clinic -- the goth girl working as receptionist and the casual women waiting for their appointments -- and the lone protester outside. Both sides were sold short in the movie. I worked in Minneapolis for several years in the early '90s, and every day, I drove past a sizable, clean and modern women's clinic (nothing like the rather seedy facility Juno visits) and saw anywhere from a dozen to nearly 50 protesters chanting, picketing, waving ugly signs and sometimes personally berating women entering those doors. It was nothing short of assault -- and nothing like the one meek and essentially friendly protester outside Juno's clinic.

If girls Juno's age see this film, and this is their first serious look at the issue of choice, it is a warped perspective indeed.

Anyway, that is some of what I was trying to say.

All the best --

JIM

I appreciated Robert's thoughtful email, as I have all of the responses I've received, and I hope Robert appreciated my response. So thanks, Mr. Reitman and Ms. "Cody," for spurring these kinds of conversations. But I still hate, hate, hate your movie -- and the soundtrack, too.

Speaking of the latter, my rock critic colleague Greg Kot and I will talk about the "Juno" soundtrack, still hovering near the top of the Billboard albums chart, as well as our favorite movie soundtracks of all time this weekend on "Sound Opinions," which airs at 8 tonight and 11 tomorrow morning on Chicago Public Radio, and at various other times in the rest of the country. (It will also be available, as all of our shows are, as a podcast starting on Monday morning.) And "Chicago Tonight" wants to talk about the movie on Monday. And WNYC's "Soundcheck" wants to chat on Tuesday.

Like I said, the debate continues.

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13 Comments

Oddly enough, the only American film I've seen that deals with abortion in a sensitive and somewhat realistic manner has been "Fast Times At Ridgemont High."

Speaking of your radio show...will it ever morph into a musical version of "Car Talk" in which phoned-in questions from the audience become an integral part of the proceedings? A "talk show" with no on-air audience feedback misses the point, doesn't it?

Nina: The trade-off in becoming a national show is that "Sound Opinions" airs at different times and on different days across the country, which makes live calls impossible. We do have a feedback segment at the end of the show, and we often incorporate dialog with listeners in the midst of the show. I don't know that a "talk show with no on-air audience feedback misses the point," because Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert did a very good one that had no audience participation. And, for your information, the "Car Talk" guys are on tape -- they're not live.

Dear Mr. DeRogatis:

You’ll notice at the top of the Media Blog a strip of links that reads:

NRO BLOG ROW | MEDIA BLOG | ARCHIVES SEARCH E-MAIL RSS

The one marked e-mail leads you, conveniently, to my e-mail address. I trust you’ll make the necessary correction. And if you’d ever like to have an intimate conversation about whether I am “cowardly,” stop by and see me next time you’re in New York.

Yours truly,
Kevin Williamson

sound opinions is great...I catch a good amount of my new music from there. Grinderman is awesome.

I work at a CPS high school with numerous teenagers who don't talk anything like Juno. Granted these are inner-city kids and not the squeaky suburban sweetheart that Juno is. It's easy for Juno to adopt her kid off to Alias but when a 14 year old gets pregnant at our school she doesn't have the options. Cultural differences leave these kids as young mamas. Of course everyone wants a white baby (unless you're a celebrity then you just buy anyone you want from overseas) and in some segments of our population abortion isn't even considered, let alone decided on. Then again these are real teenage mothers not fake movie ones.

Teen pregnancy is hilarious in the movies but in real life it is scary and difficult and affects pretty much everyone who comes in contact with the expectant mother. Everything goes Juno's way and she never has to deal with the real consequences of her actions...she's the rebel for going through with it...i.e. the sonogram scene. Hell, she even gets to date the boy who knocked her up...all is happy! Maybe thats their punishment ending the movie singing that terrible song.

Let's not dis Jason Reitman too much he did make the excellent "Thank you for Smoking"

Now get back to your regular music gig. Use your superpowers to get Stew out of the theater and back into music studio...

Whhat a man you are Mr Williams Nice veiled threat You fit the NRO nicely.

Anyhow Jim, I'm tired of the Juno debate. I believe we disagree on this one. I am just tossing out a soundtrack my wife and I have taken a shine to (in addition to the Juno soundtrack) But we both have been really enjoying the soundtrack to Once. Of course if there was ever a movie made where the soundtrack is essential to the movie it is Once (all apologies to Mr Tarentino and Pulp Fiction). Hopefully you guys will be discussiing this one.

Correction? I don't think so, Mr. Williamson. I've clarified what I originally wrote like this:

His email address is difficult to find on the site, and there is no way to post comments to his blog, responding in the forum in which he delivered his attack.

I was in New York last Sunday and Monday, sir, and if your email had been easier to find and I'd gotten your invitation earlier, maybe I'd have paid you a visit. Interesting that you went right to the playground, though -- I meant that we ought to meet on the field of intellectual debate, but whatever you wanna do, I'm up for it. I'm from Jersey; don't pull that crap on me.

I'll say it again since it got under your craw: You're a coward. Among the many reasons: You hide behind Rush Limbaugh to call me a feminazi. Say it straight out if you want to say it. And let me respond.

Why am I offended? Well, if I accept the definition of feminazi that you present, it means I am someone who seeks "to maximize the number of abortions performed." Or,to accept another definition of the term from, say, Wikipedia:

Some consider conservatives’ use of the term “feminazi” ironic because German feminists and other political dissenters were among the victims of Nazi concentration camps and Nazi work camps. Gloria Steinem said in an interview, "Hitler came to power against the strong feminist movement in Germany, padlocked the family planning clinics, and declared abortion a crime against the state--all views that more closely resemble Rush Limbaugh’s."

Or were you trying to say something else, but slipped on your keyboard?

I don't think Juno dismisses abortion at all, It was actually the first choice she explored. And the representation of the clinic in the film...isn't far off from the actual experience. Maybe the employee was a little over-exaggerated...but it's possible. And no there wasn't a "discussion" about why she chose not to but there was a very clear message of why...all she could think about was how her baby had fingernails...that one thought changed her whole perspective. She couldn't go through with it knowing that. I bet a lot of young people in the same position have that one defining moment of clarity...whether it be to have an abortion or not to have an abortion. After all this isn't the story about the pros and cons of aborition, it's a story about ONE person's perception and there's nothing wrong with that. Also I'm tired of people saying that your typical American teenager doesn't use that kind of dialogue...that maybe true but they do use dialogue of their own. I know I did and still do. My friends and I would make up words or phrases to describe things. If kids didn't, where did we get the words "groovy", "dude", "chillin" or even "party pooper" from????

Hello Jim, the idiot in National Review calls you childish, and yet he makes fun of your weight. Jim I don not agree with you 100% (one day we can debate about Sgt Pepper's) but I love how you are honest, and this guys has not contacted you to debate. You and Roger actually e-mailed each other. Mr. Williamson, you are a bonehead. If you read your stuff side by side with Jim's you come off as the childish one.

Since you're not a woman (but call yourself a feminist?) it's none of your business about whether or not ANYONE who sees this movie gets a "warped" view of abortion. I am not for abortion, but it's not my decision, so I stay out of it, as you should too.

But being a typical, liberal, whiny, knee jerk member of the Democrat Party, your collective stupidity is overshadowed ONLY by your mind numbing intellectual dishonesty.

Again, it's none of your business, so mind your own business, jackass, which incidentally is the perfect mascot for said imbecilic Democrat Party. And for the record, I'm an Independent as both sides of the aisle are basically one and the same.

Oh and being that you're a whiny, milquetoast liberal, you would most assuredly get your arse severely and savagely beaten by Mr. Williamson. Don't call people cowards and then call them out for wanting to kick the living crap you, you skirt wearing, excrement covered piece of garbage.

Hey Thirteenburn, if you read at all of what Jim wrote, you would see he called him out to an intelligent debate about the movie, not to a fist fight, but since Mr Williamson twisted into a fist fight, like all of you stupid conservitives do, and you are stupid Thirteenburn, because you did not read you did not do what is taught of you in first and second grade, Jim took him up on it. Jim did not challange your hero into a fist fight. You conservitives love to twist things. You are a piece of garbage for twisting the truth. READ WHAT JIM WROTE, HE DID NOT CHALLANGE HIM TO A FIST FIGHT AT FIRST, JUST AN DEBATE ABOUT THE FILM WHICH MR WILLIAMSON REFUSED TO DO AND HE CALLED HIM OUT TO A FIST FIGHT. Again Thirteenburn READ!!!!! And why am I calling you stupid, BECAUSE YOU BROUGHT IT INTO A NAME CALLING THING, AGAIN INSTEAD OF BEING INTELLEGENT ABOUT IT.

Hey Jim, I saw you on Chicago Tonight talking about Juno. I'm the type of person who decides what a movie's about by its trailers, and all I saw was cutesy-poo, contrived dialogue delivered at a cutesy-poo, contrived Gilmore Girls pace, and that was enough for me. I was particularly embarrassed for that cool guy from The Closer (playing Juno's dad) that he would be part of this phoniness. Add the actual plotline and the pseudo-spontaneous facial twisting going on and it's enough to induce morning sickness.

I'm in my 50s (no kids) and feel no particular need to keep up with the latest in pop culture. I've taken a pass on what appears to be very self-conscious, post-post modern dreck, as I did on Knocked Up (for the same reason). Yet I have a close friend in her 50s with a teenage daughter who felt the need to see both these movies and enjoyed them, and another one in her 40s who took the teenage daughter of a friend and was raving on about how Juno was the GREATEST movie she's ever seen and I MUST see it -- and frankly I find myself questioning my taste in friends.

Anyway, just wanted to say it was refreshing to know there's still someone out there with an intact brain (that would be you), and a few of the less dupable critics on the Rotten Tomatoes site.

Keep on fighting the good fight! It's a sad day when the only female anti-hero can come up with is a dummy who can't grab a handful of the abundant birth control all around her.

hi jim.

first of all i want to say that, though i don't think is the best movie ever and the dialogues were as false as the ones dawson's creek had to offer, i actually liked juno. plus i didn't completelly hated the soundtrack, but that's not the point. the reason i'm writing this it's because i think it's idiotic the way people have twisted and made a complete freakshow of your opinion. some have even engaged in violence (williamson and thirteenburn), wich i find pathetic by the way. anyway, i wanted to say that i've enjoyed reading and finding an honest opinion on the juno subject in your blog. thanks for that.

greetings from chile

macarena.

ps: i didn't kew you had to be a women to support a polithical and theoritical movement as feminism. i guess that's in some sign up! form i didn't read...


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