Friday, February 18, 2011

No Stomach for Gluttony--No Brains for Criticism

Willem Dafoe always plays such evil characters--Max Schreck as a real blood-sucker in Shadow of the Vampire, Bobby Peru in Wild at Heart, mangled to his very fucked-up teeth, nasty criminal Rick Masters in To Live and Die in LA.

Willem Dafoe always plays such saintly characters--that kinda holy guy Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ, the good angel Sgt. Elias, dying like Christ, in Platoon, the rules-following, racist-busting FBI agent Ward in Mississippi Burning.

That's what selective evidence can do to you--trick you into making huge sweeping judgments that just aren't true. Or, it can LET you make such huge sweeping judgments, as the case may be for B.R. Myers in his recent polemic "The Moral Crusade Against Foodies" in the Atlantic. Ultimately, it seems, all Myers aims to do is be a scourge and prove his subtitle (which might be editorially provided--I know that kind of thing happens): "gluttony dressed up as foodie-ism is still gluttony." So, the Atlantic is into standing up for the Seven Deadly Sins as still sinful--cool, I guess, in that anti-cool way. But if you read Myers, and I mean read between what he says, it gets really hard to know what food consumption he thinks is permissible. Clearly not meat. But keep reading--it's as if he wants to deny any enjoyment in food.

But, sure, we can give him his ascetic food-as-fuel pose, why not. What I can't allow him is his literary criticism.* For instance, he tries to conflate both Michael Pollan and Anthony Bourdain as both representative of foodie-ism--not just gluttony, but exclusive, clubby gluttony (we pig out in ways you common folk can't imagine). Amazingly, to do this, he acts as if Michael Pollan died, or at least stopped writing, in 2006 with the Omnivore's Dilemma. There's no mention of Pollan's most recent works (such as Food Rules) that clearly argue against the very thing Myers wants to accuse Pollan of--over-indulgence. Any Pollanite, and yes, at this point he has followers, could recite his little near koan he joked will be on his tombstone: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

Of course, it's much easier to torch your opponents once you've filled them with straw. For we have Myers writing a sentence like "Needless to say, no one shows much interest in literature or the arts—the real arts," but then mostly quote from The Best Food Writing of XXXX anthologies. I wonder if he'd complain that the folks in The Best Sports Writing anthologies don't talk about art, either. Of course, he wants to have his unsatisfying cake and eat it--with no pleasure--too. For while art allusions are lacking and that means the writing is bad (let's let slide his mandarin, and I don't mean the citrus,  phrase "the real arts"), he does bemoan religious metaphors in food writing, too. "Oh god oh god oh god"--let's hope he doesn't get to writing an attack on porn soon.

In general, though, for Myers to call out someone, let alone a whole group (which, alas, is far from unified except in his mind) as narrowly focused is like Russia's Neighbor Sarah Palin calling out someone on their lack of foreign affairs expertise. Myers is blissfully myopic when it suits him and his argument; that's never clearer then when he writes: "The book Gluttony (2003), one of a series on the seven deadly sins, was naturally assigned to a foodie writer, namely Francine Prose, who writes for the gourmet magazine Saveur." Prose has written 14 novels, 3 collections of short stories, 6 nonfiction books including one on Caravaggio (hey, real art!). Calling her a foodie writer would be like calling Barack Obama a tv baseball announcer. But since it fits Myers' argument, that's what she is. It's funny that he's the one to close his rant "They [foodies] are certainly single-minded, however, and single-mindedness—even in less obviously selfish forms—is always a littleness of soul." For he's certainly single-minded in taking them down, ignoring evidence to make his case that those who care about food can only care too much.

*Evidently his actual literary criticism is just as selective and sloppy and disingenuous. Heck, he even uses ellipses to avoid quoting stuff that gets in the way of his interpretations,something that should be beaten out of eight graders, let alone those publishing in The Atlantic.

1 comment:

  1. Two thoughts come to mind when I read articles like Myers':

    First, who the hell pissed in his Cheerios? Seriously, he devoted a gob of Internet space to provide what amounts to a fire and brimstone sermon, railing hard against the straw man he stuffed.

    Second, who cares?? Is this what The Atlantic has become? Pointless sermons against an army of straw men? Where is this same level of anger and activism for a more pressing topic like, say, literacy in 3rd world countries or for human trafficking?