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.
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 --
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.