I got into it with an old friend from high school on Facebook the other day about the Confederate flag. It’s funny, because I have not seen this person in about twenty years, and I have nothing but good memories of him. We weren’t best buddies, we never slept over or anything, but we ran in the same circles and I always liked him. He was a fun, funny guy who I was always happy to see when we showed up at the same parties, and there were a lot of those.
Other than being Facebook friends, we’ve had no contact at all in a million years, but through Facebook I was aware that he is married with kids in North Carolina and just a bit to my right politically. That’s fine by me — my whole family is to my right politically, and we don’t yell at Christmas dinner. To me a difference of opinion between friends is just that, and I remember this person as a friend, so I have no interest in fighting with him about matters I’ll never change his mind about, nor he mine.
I was on vacation in Grenada with my family when the shooting in Charleston happened. I was slow to read about the story because I was on vacation, consciously trying not to look at my phone every five minutes. We found out about it from a taxi driver, who was deeply upset about it, and over the next few days everywhere we went people asked us about it because, in a 99% black country, we stood out as obviously American.
These people were far more upset about it than, from what I could tell on social media, the average person in America was. When the national discussion turned to the Confederate flag, my old friend posted the following:
I didn’t reply to this post right away, but it stayed with me for a couple of days, on the plane back to Brooklyn, into the next night. He seemed to be angrily arguing against a straw man position. No one is blaming the flag, they’re suggesting that we stop poking African Americans in the eye with it. And by the way, while I’m sure that not all people who wave that flag are racist, let’s not pretend that when racists want a flag, it’s overwhelmingly the one they turn to.
Maybe you saw this piece where the New York Post’s film critic mansplains (I am not a fan of this expression but this article is the purest example of it of all time) that “women are not capable of understanding GOODFELLAS.” I almost didn’t read it when I saw the headline, because it sounded like typical chauvinist horseshit, which is what it turned out to be.
I ended up clicking on it because GOODFELLAS is one of my favorite movies, and though I have no doubt at all that women are capable of understanding it, I wondered what this dude thought there was to “understand.” GOODFELLAS is a great movie and it does operate on a couple of different levels, but it’s not exactly 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.
So I read his piece, and the sexism in its insistence that women can’t understand the movie is every bit as grotesque as I imagined it would be. But there is a rather delicious irony at work here, because it turns out that Mr. Kyle Smith, professional film critic, doesn’t understand GOODFELLAS either.
Women don’t get “GoodFellas.” It’s not really a crime drama, like “The Godfather.” It’s more of a male fantasy picture — “Entourage” with guns instead of swimming pools, the Rat Pack minus tuxedos…Women sense that they are irrelevant to this fantasy, and it bothers them.
The wiseguys never have to work (the three friends never exert themselves except occasionally to do something fun, like steal a tractor-trailer truck), which frees them up to spend the days and nights doing what guys love above all else: sitting around with the gang, busting each other’s balls.
Ball-busting means cheerfully insulting one another, preferably in the presence of lots of drinks and cigars and card games. Women (except silent floozies) cannot be present for ball-busting because women are the sensitivity police: They get offended, protest that someone’s not being fair, refuse to laugh at vicious put-downs. In the male fantasy, all of this is unforgivable — too serious, too boring. Deal another hand, pour another drink.
To a woman, the “GoodFellas” are lowlifes. To guys, they’re hilarious, they’re heroes. They rule the roost.
I guess if you are the kind of shithead that thinks “women cannot be present for ball-busting because women are the sensitivity police,” then maybe GOODFELLAS does look like a fantasy. But even if you do see it that way, it’s still a fundamental misreading of the movie.
The key detail to remember about GOODFELLAS is that it’s narrated by Henry Hill, the main character. Except for a couple of short interjections by his wife, GOODFELLAS is entirely Henry Hill’s story, told — and this is important — in hindsight. In the last few moments of the movie, after two-plus hours of Henry’s voiceover narration framing the events we see on screen, we see Henry in court, testifying against his friends, and for the first time he delivers his narration in person, rising from the witness stand to address the camera, tipping us off that his whole story has been told from the witness stand.
This is why, although Henry admits to being involved in multiple crimes, he minimizes his involvement as much as he can. The way he tells it, he mostly just stands around during the really bad stuff: standing guard at the door while Jimmy and Tommy beat Billy Batts to death; opening the trunk and standing back when it turns out Batts is still alive so his pals can finish him off. He puts himself in the shower when news of the Lufthansa heist comes over the radio, as though he’s not directly involved, even though Jimmy cuts him in on the score moments later. When Jimmy wants to whack Morrie the wigmaker so he doesn’t have to give him his cut of the same score — even Morrie was instrumental in the heist — Henry insists (in narration) that he wants to talk Jimmy out of it, even though he never says a word to dissuade him — he’s just “biding his time.”
Almost every detail of the story, as it pertains to Henry, either paints him as innocent or relatively innocent, pushing all the bad stuff off on others, or as a victim (like how his father beat him and how stoically he took those beatings). When Paulie cuts Henry off toward the end of the movie, in response to Henry’s having directly betrayed him and gone against his specific orders to stay out of the drug business, he still gives him some money, and even then Henry complains, like he’s the victim.
Martin Scorsese did not invent the device of the unreliable narrator, but GOODFELLAS is just about the best use of it I can think of, particularly because this aspect of the movie doesn’t call any attention to itself at all. It’s like RASHOMON, but with only one narrator. (Except Karen, whose narration also plays like witness courtroom testimony when you see it in this light.) You can enjoy the movie just as much even if you never grasp that Henry is completely full of shit, much the way Kyle Smith is completely full of shit. All that bluster about the great women and the easy money and the ballbusting is a massive rationalization to explain all this awful behavior and make himself sympathetic to the jury. On some level it’s a macho fantasy, but it’s the macho fantasy of a liar and a criminal who cheated on his wife and betrayed his best friends — and that’s HIS version of events. If you see that as a lifestyle that you’d emulate if you could, that says a lot more about you than it does about the movie, or how women relate to it. Asshole.
Caitlyn Jenner introduced herself to the world this week with a spread in Vanity Fair and a trailer for her new reality show, and unsurprisingly, the Internet had a lot to say about it. Mostly, it seemed to turn into a contest to see who could be the most supportive, and that’s great. If you had told me in 1982 that the chiseled decathlete on my Wheaties box was going to change into a woman, and not only that, that if you made any kind of joke about it everyone would call you out as a small-minded bigot, my head would have exploded, and yet here we are. There’s hope for us yet.
Soon after Ms. Jenner went public, it was announced that she would be the recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at this year’s ESPY Awards, and that’s where this thing got ugly.
Lauren Hill deserves the ESPY award for courage, and it should not even be a discussion. What an absolute embarrassment. #LaurenHillESPY
These people are right! How dare they give the Arthur Ashe award to Caitlyn Jenner?! It besmirches the long, proud tradition of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, and belittles the accomplishments of past winners, like last year’s winner, um… hold on, let me Google it… okay, I don’t actually know who last year’s winner was. I didn’t actually even know there was an Arthur Ashe Courage Award. BUT STILL.