Tag Archives: Les Mis

Isn’t it ironic?

It’s really not hard to conjure up an entire place and time with just a few choice words.

English: Logo of the Groovy project

Who says “bully-o!” anymore?  or “grody”?  (Well, I might, once in a while, but then I also persist in eating creamed chip beef, so apparently I am not really all that rooted in the times.)  Certain foods, once all the rage, have been banned from decent tables; clothing styles not only come and go, but make us scratch our heads and question the sanity of the wearers; grammar is nothing but a fad; and music that made audiences swoon makes us cover our ears and run for the exits (Ethel Merman, anyone?)

I just read a great defense of Les Mis from a NY Times editorial by Stanley Fish.  Great article, and roundly lambasted in the comments by more enlightened viewers, most of whom couldn’t resist being derisive and snarky.  Which is ironic, because the whole point of the article was that Les Mis is out of step with the times in its lack of snark.  It is not ironic enough for our postmodern critics.

But I think old Fish is on to something.  Irony in small doses has of course been around since people learned to crack a joke, but is so prevalent now that I think it is one of those generational tics that will make us instantly identifiable/laughable in years to come.  Pull a Generation X or Y quotation out of context in the year 2100 and ask a reader when it came from.  Irony will be the giveaway.

Here’s what Fish said:  “Irony is a stance of distance that pays a compliment to both its producer and consumer. The ironist knows what other, more naïve, observers do not: that surfaces are deceptive, that the real story is not what presents itself, that conventional pieties are sentimental fictions.

“The artist who deploys irony tests the sophistication of his audience and divides it into two parts, those in the know and those who live in a fool’s paradise. Irony creates a privileged vantage point from which you can frame and stand aloof from a world you are too savvy to take at face value. Irony is the essence of the critical attitude, of the observer’s cool gaze; every reviewer who is not just a bourgeois cheerleader (and no reviewer will admit to being that) is an ironist.”

Ironically, the ironist can’t stand back from his irony and see how commonplace and overdone his smugness really is.

We are trained to be critical, scornful, and haughty. We are too smart to have a simple emotion, too savvy to be taught, and always quite pleased to point out our superiority to the simple peasants who lack our sophistication. For all of our fair-minded, equality-driven lingo, we are a bunch of snobs.

This has to account in hefty degree for the decline of faith in our culture. With the eyebrow always cocked and the smirk never far off, how could we possibly embrace lofty ideals, simple black-and-white moralism, or acceptance of invisible realms and miraculous events? It’s just not possible. Who would willingly throw their lot in with the village idiot?

Matthew Perry Fan Art Wallpaper

Well, I would. But then, I’m also the girl who likes a little cheddary cream on my beefy toast. Clearly I have refined opinions.

How’s the climate in publishing? When was the last time you saw a mainstream book that dared to be simple and beautiful, no whine of sarcastic undertone? Oh, it will happen again, like hipster fashions that make the nerdy new. So subversive! And the Chandler Bings of the world will start to seem anachronistic and vain. At least, that’s what we simpletons are banking on. It’s tough to be so far ahead of the times.

Critics, and other miserable ones.

imageJust got to see my favorite Broadway show of all time, now repackaged as my new favorite movie. May I just say: Wow.

I read a snatch of review: “there will always be people who like overblown emotion,” smug critic said. I kept replaying his words in my mind as I watched (and yes, I cried like a baby. Don’t judge me.) Listen, I understand that sentimental drivel appears on the scene way too frequently, but that is altogether different than gut-level emotion — passion, grief, joy. Why are we so afraid to feel?

This movie is crazy awesome on so many levels — incredible characters, at least 4 intermeshed plots, beautiful music, hilarious sideshows, unvarnished horror alongside of shining grace — and in the midst of all that the cast and crew were trying to do, they make us feel. Jean Valjean has to be a criminal, must be a criminal, can’t possibly escape his past — and yet, here he is, heroic, transformed by grace. (Of course, that couldn’t be possible, Smug Critic would say. No one changes. There is no grace.) Fantine is any young girl we know, backed into a corner, slammed to the mucky floor by unforgiving, cruel fate. She is the face of 10,000 girls enslaved right now at this very moment, and as we feel her agony, we understand, and we are made to care. Poor Eponine, loving and forever unloved, willing to give her life for another — we see, and the sacrificial love blows us away. And the boys, the countless boys who rise up for freedom, for justice, whose blood runs in the streets, for what? How many mothers spent Christmas bereft because of sons and daughters killed in war?

Poor Smug Critic, never to feel.

Les Mis is at bottom, a love story: the love of God for a lost soul and the pay-it-forward chain of events that fly imageinto motion as a result. It is grand, epic, because Love is epic. If it doesn’t rip your heart out to realize you are a beggar and a thief impossibly, lavishly, ridiculously loved, then like Javert you have chosen a cold, hard, tit-for-tat ethic in its place. And consider how things turned out for him.