Tuesday, December 20, 2005

dec 19 issue: flanagan writes about herself, again

When not on vacation at expensive resorts in Hawaii, Caitlin Flanagan enjoys repeating herself and her oedipal dramas.

"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: , , , , ,

Dissmell makes its first appearance. Because Flanagan's writing stinks. A new low for the New Yorker.

9 Comments:

Blogger sepoy said...

Not that I know any of the backstory [never even seen the movie], I was quite amused by the snarkiness towards Travers. I could have written the whole article with the same evidence to show how an author tried to keep her intellectual property from being sullied by Disneyfication. But, Flanagan continuously went for unsympathetic description of travers - esp. that bit about her being the in-residence scholar surrounded by girls who wanted none of feminist mumbo-jumbo.

As for flanagan, I will try to pay attention to her next time I see her in print. Nice fisk, tho.

11:09 AM  
Blogger mzn said...

Still in the middle of Flanagan so no comment on it...yet, anyway.

Will we get a formal introduction to the ravishing beauty who replaced the grotesque dude? I'd love to see a larger version of her.

4:11 PM  
Blogger the chocolate lady said...

I have not yet read Mary Poppins, (I will have to find an edition with the Hottentots) but I have wanted to very much ever since I read an article by Travers on the pointlessness of categorizing children's literature. A book of death scenes had been among her favorites when she was a child. Was it children's literature? For her it was.
(I cannot find citations either for this book or the Travers article, which I think is about twenty years old. Maybe the children's librarian can).


I agree utterly about Marilla in Anne of Green Gables. Every time I go back, it's more Marilla's book. I began coming around after seeing the television series with Colleen Dewhurst, her face as vast as all of Canada.
Now, just the other day Anne of Green Gables came up in Yiddish class, but what was the context? I can't remember! I'll have to spend another night velcroed to the ceiling.

11:43 PM  
Blogger the chocolate lady said...

P. L. Travers wrote a Mary Poppins Cookbook: Mary Poppins in the Kitchen: A Cookery Book with a Story! I will certainly have to get hold of this somehow. I remember now that we were reading a short story by Yenta Mash which had the uncommon Yiddish word “akselkes” those enormous puffed sleeves popular in the first decade of the last century for which our Anne pines.

Travers, P. L., Maurice Moore-Betty, and Mary Shepard. Mary Poppins in the Kitchen: A Cookery Book with a Story. 1st ed. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975.

12:46 AM  
Blogger zp said...

sepoy, this time you *have* baffled me. who or what is a fisk? the journalist? i didn't find him in any recent new yorkers?

chocolate lady, learning the yiddish word for enormous puffed sleeves i find almost unbearably touching.

mzn, you know, i think it is funny that we have no way of "looking up" information about images, if given the image (but of course we have the reverse, from text to image) . . .

9:27 AM  
Blogger the chocolate lady said...

So who was the grotesque dude?

11:11 AM  
Blogger sepoy said...

Fisk
verb. To deconstruct an article on a point by point basis in a highly critical manner. Derived from the name of journalist Robert Fisk, a frequent target of such critical articles in the blogosphere (qv).

Usage: "Orrin Judd did a severe fisking of an idiotic article in the New York Times today..."

i, geek.

8:35 PM  
Blogger femme feral said...

Great post! I will have to check out the article. And it's been a long time since I thought about Aunt Elizabeth from the Emily books . . .I actually think about Emily quite a bit; that "the flash" business really struck a chord with me.

And thanks for the shout out.

xoxox ff

1:51 AM  
Blogger zp said...

Labor, feminism and young adult fiction. I thought of you.

9:46 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]