Fade to Orange: He is So Totally That Into Me Edition

By

I was in Halifax this weekend, visiting my 93-year-old grandma. Seeing her reminded me of the ace movie reviews she started sending me right after I moved to New York. My grandma loved to go to “the show” and would save the ticket stub to write her thoughts right on it, using both sides if the spirit moved her. I thought they showed a kind of genius of critical economy: I was studying film at the time and I remember bringing some of them into a criticism seminar. I posted a few of them on Steve’s site back in the day.

On Saturday we were tooling through downtown Halifax and passed a theatre with one film playing: Slumdog Millionaire. The good people of Halifax (call them “Haligonians,” SVP, FYI) were lined up around the (very short) block. I wondered if they would agree with a piece I read this week that irritated me for several reasons, the first being its use of the term “poverty porn.” What follows is essentially an extended note to self to write the piece I have been meaning to write about the self-satisfied laziness of hitching the term “porn” onto another noun to describe an objection to a film’s theme and/or presentation. I didn’t mind so much when David Edelstein came up with “torture porn”– something about the emerging borderline fetish genre he was referring to is so overtly and visually geared to titillate in a psychosexual and possibly downright genital way that it described the phenomenon passably, if  imperfectly. But since then we’ve had The Diving Bell and the Butterfly described as “disability porn” and now comes “poverty porn,” which google tells me was also applied to The Wire about a year ago. I am loath to play the usage wonk*, but as the “TK porn” meme proliferates, I am increasingly unsure of what it is being deployed to say, or if the deployers know themselves. I offer a rough argumentative field guide: If you think that a thing is licentious, obscene, lurid, exploitative or sensational, say that; if you think it depicts something that’s not “real” but purports to be “real,” say that, but know that what you’re saying is specious, as well as dependent on the fallacy of “the real” in representation and some absolute definition of the aesthetics of something like “poverty” or “disability”; if you think it has constructed a depiction of “disability” or “poverty” or anything else that is not the sexual act itself with the express intention of arousing a sexual response, uh, say that.

*Because I have unfortunately been part of the problem myself. It just occurred to me that a couple of years ago I annoyed several of my child-rearing friends by (loudly) calling The March of the Penguins “mommy porn” at an otherwise civilized dinner party and thinking myself very clever. Goddammit.

Oh you like profanity? Then surely you have heard and enjoyed/been horrified by the tape of Welsh actor and weight-loss expert Christian Bale losing all contact with his humanity on the set of Terminator Salvation. Additional shock value may be derived from the fact that apparently he was spanking not a key grip or the craft services guy but the effing director of effing photography. Don’t even bother with the original, the remixes are so much better, and frame the outburst at an appropriately absurd angle: I’m obsessed with this one.

In re: humanity and losing contact with it. During an already linked to conversation with some film cronies we were all asked which film had recently made us cry. I realized that I cry much less often in films than I used to, and I think it is largely because I see almost everything in press screenings. I have no problem expressing my delight or disgust, but somehow to cry must strike me as unprofessional or embarrassing. How sad. The last things I recall making me cry were both watched alone, on my computer: the Britney episode of South Park and Penelope Cruz’s face at the end of the film Elegy. I hereby resolve to cry in public more often. I actually started on Sunday night, with this genuine, heartbreaking, beautiful Federer Moment.

You know what almost made me cry? Just how horrific He’s Just Not That Into You turned out to be. I have just returned from a screening my friend Kristin and I were going to chalk up to morbid social experiment. Rather than get into the levels of consternation experienced and postures of agony assumed, I will leave it to Kristin, who summed it up on the corner of 68th and Broadway: “I want to punch that movie in the face.”

After making characteristically adorable non-commital noises about his participation at Sundance last month, prodigal Canadian Michael Cera has apparently agreed to join the cast of the Arrested Development movie. Cera, whose Paper Hearts seemed to disappoint Park City audiences (and nb let’s file “holocaust of twee” under the “poverty porn” banner of knowing phrases that didn’t need to happen), has been branching out: he has a short story called “Pinecones” in issue 30 of McSweeney’s, you can read an excerpt here.

Bonus ambient audio link: Another exemplary Canuck, A.C. Newman, saw his second solo album released recently. It’s called Get Guilty, listen in here. Remember when I ran into him on the street that one day when I had been using his entire oeuvre to keep me from falling apart? That was awesome.


Michelle Orange's writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Village Voice, The Nation, The Virginia Quarterly Review, McSweeney's and other publications and has been collected in The Best Sex Writing 2006 and Mountain Man Dance Moves. She is the author of The Sicily Papers and the editor of From the Notebook: The Unwritten Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, a collection found in issue 22 of McSweeney's. Follow her on Twitter @michelleorange. More from this author →