dec 19 issue: flanagan writes about herself, again
"Life and Letters, Becoming Mary Poppins, The woman behind the Nanny." This is for you, Fluffy Dollars.
1. Flanagan makes her obligatory, self-promoting, reference to contemporary US nannies as "cheap female immigrant labor" - one of the biggest problems with this critique is that it obscures the way people of all genders here in the US rely on exploited labor for food, clothing, shelter, engery, you name it. Her crit draws attention to a particularly visible (and intimate) use of labor and makes it look as if upper class women were the only people in the world outsourcing labor. And she works from the assumption that this labor is in some way their natural responsibility . . . Sort of like when that female senator, a few years back, was exposed for having an illegal nanny. Well, lots of male senators have them too, and, more importantly, major parts of the US economy depend on illegal labor . . . You just don't see it when you go home. Unless you do. Flanagan started her nonsense with "How Serfdom Saved the Women's Movement" in The Atlantic, March 2004 and fuck The New Yorker for selling me more of this kind of bullshit. If we're going to point fingers over this particular exploitation of labor, I blame capitalism, not contemporary feminism.
But what about Poppins?
2. Flanagan uses subjective, catty and offensive language to describe Poppins' author P.L. Travers, when Travers is upset about Disney's interpretation of her work and what amounts to his breach of contract over her artistic control, "while Travers, whose youthful self-confidence had gathered over the years into an oppressive self-righteousness, interrupted, corrected, bullied and shamed them." [Them is the lackeys Disney sends in his place when he avoids a final meeting with Travers.]
While she lets Disney off the hook with, "Disney's artistic impulses may be open to interpretation, but he was shrewd."
Wait, what about Poppins?
3. Flanagan doesn't admit that she's taking the story of Poppins personally. She closes with reference to "the powerful emotions - in particular, children's deep fear of abandonment - that have always been at the story's core." This fear, though, isn't necessarily at the story's core, it's at the author's core. She wrote all about it in "To Hell With All That" in the July 2004 New Yorker, if I remember correctly. That essay was ostensibly about women (when? where? who? whatever . . . ) going back to work, but it was actually about Flanagan's own feelings when her own mother went back to work.
Same thing when she says, "it's a film with a surprising moral: fire the nanny." Maybe for her. But anybody can watch the film and take what they will from it and film is notorious for (shamefully anachronistic language) saying one thing with its lips, while its eyes say another.
She doesn't really analyze what might be appealing about the book and movie. Or give any evidence (except for one man's cry in a theater) for her "abandonment" argument. And this fellow anyway was crying for Poppins, the nonbiological mother, not his own mama.
I thought the biographical stuff on Travers was interesting, but my friend the children's librarian thought that Flanagan was just doing a sort of senstional expose of the author's life at the expense of talking about the book. Which is true, since she didn't really do much with a lot of the biographical material. Just that early part . . . and if you read the piece, it feels like an ill fit with her "abandonment" argument.
4. If I were writing about the book, or film, or Travers, or Poppins, I would look comparatively at what I find is a recurring fantasy about the family without biological parents, and children without reproduction, and the no-nonsense nonbiological mother. This includes such figures as Marilla, in Anne of Green Gables (which is so touching when read as Marilla's story) and Aunt Elizabeth, in Emily of New Moon, and, for grown-ups, Miss MacIntosh, in Miss MacIntosh, My Darling . . . and my friend the children's librarian added Ole Golly in Harriet the Spy . . . And of course I'd own to this fantasy being my personal interpretation of the book, except I wouldn't have too because, see, I've gathered evidence for a broader argument.
As they say, it's not always about daddy-mommy-me.
My friend the children's librarian (let's call her Madame Librarian) had this to say about Harriet. She says the book is pivotal for being the first cynical treatment of family in children's lit. (She also says The Outsiders is the first psychological realism for young adults . . . ) She says that Harriet has been read as a cross-dresser, because she's a girl wearing jeans and converse and a sweatshirt in the early 1960s. On the other hand, Nancy Drew's George (Nancy's Hannah Gruen actually fits the bill above, too) is totally butch and so is that girl in West Side Story. And if Harriet weren't so white and rich, would this really be read as cross-dressing?
5. And what about the Hottentots chapter, excised by Disney and also from my later publication (1960s) of Mary Poppins?
Emdashes on Flanagan on Hawaii, "Tourism, yes!"
Ms. Magazine on Flanagan on Labor "Feminism, no!"
Categories: currentevents, newyorker, film, books, anger/rage, dissmell
Dissmell makes its first appearance. Because Flanagan's writing stinks. A new low for the New Yorker.