Re: Modern Love: Actually Readable This Week Edition

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Not that any of you seem to care, but I just read Gawker's Modern Love column this week and they had the totally opposite reaction.


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 10:25 AM
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I mostly agree with you. I also thought that this column seemed less massaged than the norm. I got more of a sense of this woman's actual voice, fbow, than some interchangeable NYT editor.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 10:27 AM
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I thought it was better writing and less Modern Love-y than usual, but I was with Gawker on the substance.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 10:32 AM
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I agree with Becks. Usually, the problem with the NYT article is that the lover has a problem, which turns out to be code for a problem of the author. He had a drinking problem, but I needed his love to quench the thirst in my soul blah blah. This one the actual problem actually involved the author.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 10:33 AM
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good job of capturing the dilemmas involved in building relationships

s/b

good job of capturing the narcissistic drama manufactured in the ML writer's crazy, crazy head


Posted by: jms | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 10:34 AM
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Huh. The thing that makes me unsympathetic toward the Gawker viewpoint is my sense that life in the heart of the epidemic was very, very weird, and having freakout moments like this was a natural response.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 10:37 AM
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See, I thought there was less manufactured drama than usual. And, like others above, I think the best thing about it was that it actually had a unique voice instead of the generic ML tone and wasn't all about The Lesson This Person Taught Me.


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 10:38 AM
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life in the heart of the epidemic was very, very weird

This, very much. Where's DE? She would probably have some useful insight about this, if I am remembering her generation/professional trajectory correctly.

When you go back and reread things like The Normal Heart years after they were written it's like a totally different landscape. Almost unimaginable.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 10:44 AM
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6: Oh, sure. But in retrospect, I would have liked to see more regret for her freakout, rather than straight reportage of her emotional state as if it were objectively reasonable.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 10:45 AM
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6: Yeah. Around the anniversary of the discovery of HIV, there was a lot of reminiscing about how it seemed that everyone was dropping dead, and that there wasn't any hope, and that contracting AIDS was a death sentence. Freakouts: a little more excusable.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 10:46 AM
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9: That would have been even more unpleasantly self-pitying, no?


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 10:49 AM
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To expand on that, a kind of reasonable freakout that I wouldn't hold against her would be "I can't bear to have a kid with a gay man in my social circle, everyone's dying, and even if the guy I pick isn't infected yet I can't believe he won't be. I won't do that to a kid." But her waffling over a specific guy and whether his sexual activities were going to give him AIDS seemed really screwy.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 10:51 AM
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Gahhh. Becks is probably the most gentle and forgiving soul to be posting on this blog.


Posted by: marcus | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 10:52 AM
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13: Becks is probably the most gentle and forgiving soul replicant to be posting on this blog.


Posted by: Doug | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 10:56 AM
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I'm not sure I see the difference in 12. This guy, he's so great, but wow, he's at really high risk, so I can't-- sounds like she's just applying the tests in the reverse order.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 10:59 AM
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Oh, wait, I can nerd out on this one: LB is in the grips of an alienating impartial framework that neglects the insights of particularism and the ethics of care.


Posted by: FL | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 11:00 AM
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15, 16: It read very individually blaming to me. "Geez, I would have loved to have kids with him. Pity he couldn't keep his dick in his pants, even with his life at stake."

LB is in the grips of an alienating impartial framework that neglects the insights of particularism and the ethics of care.

Probably true, but absolutely incomprehensible. Academics are clearly smarter than I am.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 11:04 AM
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From the Gawker link:

This is exactly the kind of powerful, assholish first-person writing we have come to expect from Modern Love.

I think Seinfeld-hate and Modern Love-hate have a lot in common. Me, I can find carefully observed narratives about/by assholes amusing, interesting and useful.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 11:35 AM
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are you kidding me? Seinfeld is about assholes who know they're assholes, Modern Love is about the vain and self-important type who think they're wonderful.

Can you imagine George writing a Modern Love column?


Posted by: marcus | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 11:41 AM
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I think the final paragraph of the Gawker reaction gets it exactly right:

A decade and a half later, apparently the guy has not become a desiccated corpse, and is doing fine on the other coast, except for today, because he's probably just read Modern Love and thought, "Wow, that woman was fucking crazy and this is the most passive-aggressive non-apology for being shut out of someone's life that I have ever been subjected to!"


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 11:47 AM
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19: Can you imagine George writing a Modern Love column?

I dunno, I think you are underselling the self-awareness of the assholes who write Modern Love and overstating the self-awareness of Seinfeld characters.

The whole point of Seinfeld was to riff on characters' efforts to, at least, not be seen as awful people. And I think the narrator of the current ML, like many of them, understands that her stance on the friend that she ditched is not admirable.

Jerry and Elaine could certainly be ML authors. Jerry presumably made a living off of interpreting the comedy of manners that constituted his life.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 11:58 AM
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Come on. Granted that there's a sense in which they wanted to see themselves as good guys, but the Seinfeld characters could never, ever have written anything as sententious as an ML column. Remember, "no lessons" was the watchword of the show. By the end of the episode they'd realize they were kinda-sorta assholes, but shrug it off as the inevitable price of living is a world where everyone else was an even bigger asshole.

Seinfeld is the GREATEST TV COMEDY OF ALL TIME, in case you weren't aware.


Posted by: marcus | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 12:04 PM
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Seinfeld is the GREATEST TV COMEDY OF ALL TIME, in case you weren't aware.

I actually am aware of this. And I don't much like ML. I just think the ML-hate around here is a bit out of proportion. (And the existence of any Seinfeld hate around here is astonishing to me.)


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 12:07 PM
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comity!


Posted by: marcus | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 12:10 PM
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What ttaM said in the dead of night (here in No. America) would hold for me too: I get Seinfeld, and respect its craft and the unconventional thinking that made it possible.

But I wasn't really entertained by it.


Posted by: I don't pay | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 12:13 PM
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Academics are clearly smarter more obtuse than I am.


Posted by: spaz | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 12:42 PM
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Seinfeld is a revealing artifact of a godless culture. That is not a compliment.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 12:51 PM
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Huh, Gawker is really pretty toxic. It turns out it's easy to make people seem evil if you ascribe the worst possible motives to all their actions! It seems pretty reasonable that in the midst of all her close friends dying, Smith drew the "gay sex it up and you'll die" conclusion, and, more to the point, I think it's pretty clear that she really did want Andrew to herself in some way and didn't know how to react when it was clear that she couldn't have him. She doesn't try to justify the action, and herself provides the evidence that she was wrong and has regrets. Seems totally unobjectionable all around.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 12:54 PM
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One of my favorite moments of self-awareness from a Seinfeld character came when someone confessed to George that they were living a lie, and George said something like, "Only one lie? I'm living more lies that I can count!"

The Seinfeld characters knew they were superficial assholes, but didn't dwell on it, because they were too busy dwelling on all those superficial, assholish things.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 1:00 PM
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28: It seems pretty reasonable... Right. The context was: If you get it you die, if you screw someone who has it you die, if you have it and a baby it dies.

Freaking out was perfectly reasonable.


Posted by: Biohazard | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 1:36 PM
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But I wasn't really entertained by it.

I was immensely entertained by Seinfeld at the time. I don't have any burning desire to see it again, though. The reruns just leave me blah. Maybe I'll laugh at it again in the nursing home.

A few of the remarks by this author struck me as a little weirdly controlling, but not obnoxiously so. I tend to think, every time I read one of these columns, that most of us who subjected our sexual anecdotes to the Times' house-style would probably sound just as self-absorbed.


Posted by: Populuxe | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 2:25 PM
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She doesn't try to justify the action, and herself provides the evidence that she was wrong and has regrets. Seems totally unobjectionable all around.

She clearly regrets it didn't work out. I don't see evidence of her really regretting her own actions though. And sure, freaking out was understandable at the time (although this was around 1992, not 1988), and I don't go along with most of Gawker's take, but I still think that "the most passive-aggressive non-apology for being shut out of someone's life" hits the nail right on the head.

I'm also very unclear what she means here:

I knew he was taking sexual risks, and I wanted to scream, "Don't jeopardize our chance at children, and your life, for casual sex!" But I wasn't his boyfriend, or wife or even a longtime friend. And I feared that if I pried into his love life or pushed him to be safe, he might feel forced into an ultimatum that I might lose.

If she's not prying into his love life, how does she know what level of risk he's taking? I get the feeling that by "taking risks" she means "having any sex whatsoever".


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 3:49 PM
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most of us who subjected our sexual anecdotes to the Times' house-style would probably sound just as self-absorbed.

The annoyingness of Modern Love lies precisely in submitting one's private sexual / romantic life to the Times Style section makeover.


Posted by: marcus | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 4:48 PM
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Gawker is way off-base. I found the story moving. The author doesn't come off as an asshole. A deadly virus was killing a lot of her friends, but she felt it was very important to have procreative sex with someone in that circle.

So, she found herself in what must have been a nerve wracking Catch-22. She wanted to make babies with this man in part because she liked and respected him as a friend. Therefore, she was afraid of asking probing questions about the rest of his sex life. Because he wasn't a super-close friend, she didn't feel she could ask him to put his sex life on hold long enough to establish he was HIV-free and conceive a child.

Andrew is the only person in the story who might have been an asshole. He signed up for ongoing unprotected sex with this woman because he wanted to father several children. With HIV rates so high in his social network, he was putting the author at risk of infection.

Although, if he was totally upfront about the fact that he had no intention of practicing safer sex with others while he was sharing fluids with the author, and the author agreed, then Andrew wasn't necessarily being an asshole.

I find the a lot of the author's choices perplexing, but I don't think she comes off as a jerk.


Posted by: Lindsay Beyerstein | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 5:02 PM
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I don't actually know much about the practicalities. If fear of infection herself was the issue, wouldn't (1) HIV test (2) immediate sperm donation, to be frozen (3) six months later HIV test (4) use the sperm if the second test is good (5) repeat ad lib with remainder of initial donation for future children have worked, though? Might have been tricky to arrange, but surely they could have figured something similar out.

I assumed the serious concern was fear of being personally/family involved with someone who was going to die.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 5:08 PM
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The point was an involved father, after all, or sperm donation wouldn't have been her second choice.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 5:11 PM
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This passage convinces me that LizardBreath's interpretation is correct.
"A few months later, he surprised me by showing up at my apartment to introduce me to a man he had fallen in love with. For a brief moment, I hoped that he and I might be able to have our family. In six months, if tests showed him to be H.I.V.-negative, his quarantined sperm would be safe, and perhaps he would be settled into safe monogamy with his new boyfriend."

So, we know she considered the donate-and-test strategy, but she ultimately rejected that option because she didn't want to start a family with someone whose days might be numbered.

I still don't think that makes her a jerk. As Becks said in the original post, she found herself in a very interesting and ambiguous situation--contemplating a lifelong bond with someone who wasn't a lover, a spouse, or a very close friend.

As long as she was ordering a la carte, as it were, it was perfectly reasonable for her to make some emotional/actuarial calculations about whether Andrew was the right guy.

She might have been a jerk for just breaking off the relationship instead of talking to Andrew about her misgivings. We're lead to think that he really wanted to be a dad. Sounds like he really wanted to be the father of her children. Maybe, all things considered, he wouldn't have been prepared to readjust his life to conform to this woman's ideal--but she didn't even give him a chance to think it through.


Posted by: Lindsay Beyerstein | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 5:52 PM
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Lindsay! Why didn't anybody tell me Lindsay was in this thread?

I'll totally agree that the author was not a jerk, although since I'm not totally clear on how well she anticipates future outcomes it's possible it'd still be okay to eat her.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 6:16 PM
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WWSRD: What would Stan Rogers do?


Posted by: Lindsay Beyerstein | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 6:17 PM
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39: substitute "AIDS" with "the terrible price exacted by the storm-tossed seas" and switch the POV and you'd have a pretty good Stan Rogers song.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 6:20 PM
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Hrm. I still think that she focused a kind of reasonable generalized freakout, given the epidemic and all, that could reasonably have taken the form "OMG all my gay male friends are going to die; I can't have kids with any of these guys, unless they become celibate", into blaming this individual guy for behaving in way she thought of as risky to the point that she wouldn't associate with him at all. The first freakout is completely understandable; the second seemed lousy.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 6:24 PM
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I'm with Sifu. If I had a friend who was a captain or first mate sailing the Great Lakes of Ontario, I don't think I'd choose him to be the father of my children.

Nothing against the seafaring lifestyle, but nobody wants to be that red-eyed Wiarton girl.


Posted by: Lindsay Beyerstein | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 7:00 PM
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Modern Love in a nutshell:

For we couldn't leave her there, you see, to crumble into scale.
She'd saved our lives so many times, living through the gale
And the laughing, drunken rats who left her to a sorry grave
They won't be laughing in another day. . .
And you, to whom adversity has dealt the final blow
With smiling bastards lying to you everywhere you go
Turn to, and put out all your strength of arm and heart and brain
And like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 7:13 PM
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She might have been a jerk for just breaking off the relationship instead of talking to Andrew about her misgivings. We're lead to think that he really wanted to be a dad. Sounds like he really wanted to be the father of her children. Maybe, all things considered, he wouldn't have been prepared to readjust his life to conform to this woman's ideal--but she didn't even give him a chance to think it through.

This is precisely what I thought was objectionable. I found the story moving too, but going from "let's make babies together!" to suddenly not returning his phonecalls seems, as LB said, lousy.

she felt it was very important to have procreative sex with someone in that circle.

He signed up for ongoing unprotected sex with this woman . . .

I assumed they weren't going to have sex together, just that he would supply sperm for in vitro fertilization. Unless you're using "sex" to include that arrangement?

The annoyingness of Modern Love lies precisely in submitting one's private sexual / romantic life to the Times Style section makeover especially when it's your substitute for actually communicating with people involved in the story. See also here.


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 7:28 PM
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I agree, almost nothing justifies cutting a loved one out of your life. There are even fewer situations that might justify cutting a loved one out of your life without an explanation.

I'm not disputing that the author handled the "breakup" very badly. There's nothing in the essay that suggests Andrew deserved a brushoff like that, especially given all that they'd shared. "Lousy" is an apt descriptor.

I'm willing to cut the author way more slack than Gawker, but that's because I'm an earnest Stan Rogers fan.

If Modern Love were a Stan Rogers song, I think it would be Man With Blue Dolphin, the one about the guy who falls in love with the sister ship to the Bluenose, the one that is residing at the bottom of the ocean at the height of his infatuation. (Trivia: The Bluenose is "tails" on the Canadian dime.)

Blue Dolphin, built by the Rhuland men,
She's lying on the bottom again
With only him to care
That Bluenose had a sister.
He lost the house and he sold the car.
His wife walked out; so he hit the bars
And hit up every friend
To raise the Blue Dolphin
And even afloat she's a hole in the water where his money goes.
Every dollar goes
And it's driving him crazy.
He pounds his fists white on the dock in the night
And cries, "I'm gonna win!"
And licks the blood away.
And he's gonna raise the Dolphin.


Posted by: Lindsay Beyerstein | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 7:59 PM
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Whereas unfogged is unquestionably this song.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 8:03 PM
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I think Unfogged's official Stan Rogers Anthem goes more like this: Ah, for just one time I would take "the Northwest Passage, to find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea..."
I'm glad poor Stan didn't live to see the day when global warming opened up the Northwest Passage to just anyone.


Posted by: Lindsay Beyerstein | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 8:26 PM
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I'm glad poor Stan didn't live to see the day when global warming opened up the Northwest Passage to just anyone.

Yeah, Stan was totally into that Northwest shit before all these johnny-come-lately poseurs.

I hear he kind of slept around a lot though, IYKWIM. Not really father material.


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 11:10 PM
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I'm glad poor Stan didn't live to see the day when global warming opened up the Northwest Passage to just anyone.

Heh, this connection is on my mind every time I hear or read about said event. I am glad poor Stan missed it.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11- 5-07 11:11 PM
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I wasn't aware of Stan Rogers, but he seems to have chosen a disturbingly wholesome way of dying young. Not that we should allow this to feed the condescending stereotype of Canadians -- I'm sure that there are lots of normally fucked up Canadian musicians.

Like Leonard Cohen, for example, though he's getting pretty old for a fucked-up guy. Joni Mitchell maybe? 64 now.

OK, Richard Manuel.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 11- 6-07 5:46 AM
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