Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Last Days of Disco in Libya?

The weapon of choice for our chickenhawks is the public letter. Nothing demonstrates your resolve to spend taxpayer money to send other people's kids to kill in other countries then putting your name on a letter written by someone else.

So it comes as no surprise to find that this letter from the Foreign Policy Initiative urging Obama to institute a "no-fly zone" and "explore the option of targeted strikes against regime assets" is signed by the usual suspects. Robert Kagan. Marty Peretz. Max Boot. William Taft!?!? Paul Bremer. Bill Kristol. And of course, the loathsome Michael O'Hanlon who long ago discovered the best way to get your name in the New York Times is to advocate for Muslim deaths from the "liberal-leaning" Brookings Institute.

But one signatory stands out among the usual cast of Cheneys and Podhoretzez: Whit Stillman. Remember Whit, the film director who burst on the scene with Metropolitan in 1990, followed it up with Barcelona in 1994, and finished his Manhattan trilogy in 1998 with The Last Days of Disco before vanishing from film-making without a trace? (Maybe there was a trace; I didn't really look.)

Apparently, Whit's "sly depictions of the "urban haute bourgeosie" (thanks, Wikipedia!) qualify him as a "foreign policy expert." Because I'm looking at the press release from the Foreign Policy Institute and its entitled "Foreign Policy Experts Urge President to Take Action to Halt Violence in Libya."

OK. I'm not being fair. I actually really like (or liked -- I wonder if they hold up) the trilogy. And, in reality, old Whit is almost certainly no less of an "expert" than the rest of the horrible signers. Not to mention, having celebrities like Tim Robbins or Elmo sign your public letters has always been a tactic that activists use to draw attention to their cause.

But that's kinda the point. Whit Stillman is not exactly a household name. Back when he made movies, how many people knew who Whit was outside of my clique of Chris Eigeman-quoting friends? The Last Days of Disco grossed less than $3 million in the US. At 1998 ticket prices, that's 500,000 people tops. And that was 13 years ago!

So if he's not an expert and he's not a celebrity, why is he listed on the letter? Two very uneducated guesses:
  • The Chuck Norris wasn't available theory. I've always been pretty skeptical of the idea that Hollywood was a bastion of the left. After all, as David Sirota recently noted in Salon, Hollywood has a long history of working with the Pentagon to produce movies that are remarkably similar to chickenhawks wildest fantasies. But this Whit incident has me wondering if the top 3 million people in show business aren't actually all Pinkos. "We really need a celebrity on this letter. Bieber won't take our calls? Crap. Chuck said no? Darn. What about that guy who made a movie about prep school kids on vacation twenty years ago?"
  • The Whit Stillman has a really bad PR team theory. Is it a coincidence that Whit signed the letter at the same time that his first movie in 13 years is coming out? How could it be? "Whit, 99.5% of the population has never heard of you and the other .5% find your movies about the insufferable navel gazing of the privileged to be incredibly cloying. I've got three words for how we solve both these problems: Paul "Fuckin" Bremer."
Other theories?

P.S. Fire Tom Friedman


  1. I stumbled upon this and the fact that there are no comments speaks to you point about Stillman or the popularity of your blog (either/or). But jeez this is really weird. WTF. Whit Stillman??? Maybe Noah Baumbach will sign a letter demanding we invade Syria. And Wes Anderson will join the Council on Foreign Relations. Who knows what'll happen after this precedent? The dude who made that movie "Submarine" urge Congress to pass Paul Ryan's budget. The Bougie Indie Navel-Gazers show their true colors at last!

  2. While I'm pretty sure I'm right about Stillman (and everything!), I don't think one can use blog comments here as a fair metric for measuring Whit's popularity. Alas, naked posts here are the norm.

  3. I'll tell myself that it's Whit Stillman's popularity because I like your blog wayyy more than I like his movies... I had to turn Metropolitan off. Could sort of see the appeal at first but half hour in I was like 'naaaaaah" and hit eject. Fuck these dreary slow detached movies about kids post-Harvard spouting sardonic witticisms about meaning and shit.