Bad Friday Reading #1

There is [Renata Adler’s] famous Pauline Kael review. It is hard to remember what a cultural despot Kael, then the New Yorker‘s film critic, was when Adler took her down in 1980. Kael was bully, drama queen, suck-up, disciplinarian, hysteric, and — taking jobs and inducements from the people she promoted — a bit corrupt, too. Still, opprobrium yet attaches to Adler for her sweeping emperor’s-new-clothes leveling of Kael; and it certainly earned her no points with the New Yorker, their mutual employer.

But the rightness of Adler’s view of Kael as nasty, self-promoting gasbag only become more obvious as Kael’s reputation disappeared after she lost her New Yorker post and power. She was unreadable, said Adler; and indeed, Kael isunread now.

Michael Wolff, in an obvious hit job on Kael, masquerading as an appraisal of Renata Adler. “Suck-up” is ridiculous, though I suppose you could call it a matter of opinion. Suggesting that Kael was fired from the New Yorker and that she is now “unread” — well, those are just blatant lies. As usual, I blame the writer here less than I blame whoever it was that edited this garbage. All I can come up with here is that:
a) said editor doesn’t know who Pauline Kael is, so would not think to challenge such ridiculous assertions;
b) said editor is so thrilled to be editing a writer of Wolff’s stature that they dare not challenge such ridiculous assertions;
c) for purely economic reasons, said editor (the kind, I mean, who isn’t employed merely to check for grammar and spelling mistakes but to actually critique the writing itself, work to make it better) doesn’t actually exist. Said editor, in this case, might actually be an unpaid, straight-out-of-college intern.


2 thoughts on “Bad Friday Reading #1

  1. “It is hard to remember what a cultural despot”–hard to remember because it didn’t happen. The thing about Kael’s influence — her Paulettes like to imagine it ran far and wide, because that’s how great a writer and important a thinker she was, meanwhile her detractors call it despotism, absolute power corrupting absolutely. Of course neither is true. She was influential and important in the sphere of our culture that paid attention during a crucial time to film and film criticism, discussion, debate. Which is really as far as a critic can go in America. As to the other, sure, some people got jobs because of her, with the concomitant that some people, not Paulettes, didn’t get those jobs. But her negative influence on a handful of lives scarcely translates to despotism; at worst, it’s cronyism, and who among us with friends and a little bit of professional leverage doesn’t practice that? Has Michael Wolff never used his pull to get a friend a gig?

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