Friday, October 21, 2011


If my life were a movie and the trailer/poster for that movie needed a tagline, one that comes to mind is “If you push a man past his breaking point, he’ll finally break all the rules.” Of course, in my case that doesn’t refer to meting out harsh street justice with military surplus and mad kung fu skills, but rather to violating my personal code of behavior in online forums as I spend my daily dose of time in front of a computer as usual.

I tell myself with mantra-like repetition that it does little to no good to enter into an internet conversation with strangers in the interest of winning an argument, proving a point, or changing someone’s mind. The chances of success are virtually non-existent, there’s no other corollary upside, and the downside includes general frustration, wastes of precious time, and coming out looking like a jackass. So even when I read trolly comments and they really, really bug me, I try to ignore them. But I’m only human and sometimes resisting the urge to rebut is exhausting.

So earlier this week there was some entertainment “news” about how Anne Hathaway was cast as Fantine in the forthcoming big screen adaptation of the musical version of Les Mis. I must admit that Les Mis is a show almost embarrassingly near and dear to my heart. Not only did it probably peak in U.S. popularity at a time that coincided with my early adolescence, when I would be particularly vulnerable to the bombast and melodrama of the whole spectacle, but those high school years were also incredibly music-intensive for me. I was in the school marching band, concert band, chorus, show choir, jazz band, plays (which were almost always classic Broadway shows), etc. I spent all my free time on school property hanging out in the music wing of the building with other kids who were similarly obsessed with the performing arts, and as with any teenage peer group the things that were popular with us, like Les Mis, were insanely popular because we reinforced each other’s mania with group-think. So Les Mis became deeply imprinted on my brain. To this day, if I am flipping around on television and PBS is doing their annual pledge drive and showing one of the “Les Mis in Concert” specials I am drawn into it as helplessly as if I came across Goodfellas or A Few Good Men on cable. The last time this happened I left it on as background noise while I did some straightening and found myself singing along to Javert’s solo, “Stars”, and I still knew every word and that was from two-decade old second-hand memorization (because I was a tenor and Javert is a baritone so it wasn’t a proper piece for me Ibut listened to a lot of my friends practicing “Stars” for recital).

So. Les Mis. I am familiar, and I enjoy it, but I am not hyper-possessive of it. They are making a movie of it? Fine by me, and I may see it some day, or I may not. I’m trying to arrange my life these days around celebrating the things I like and not devoting mental energy to the things I don’t care for. And those are the ways I’ll contribute to the cyber-chatter, tossing the occasional “I dug this” into the mix. I absolutely won’t waste my time in negatively pre-judging things, since it combines unnecessary bad vibes with impossible attempts at future-seeing. But other people follow their own instincts, so of course I ran across a comment (on NPR’s site, of all places!) responding to the Hathaway casting by saying, “Um, is it wrong that I think she’s way too old?”

Similarly withholding judgment about her turn as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises.  FOR NOW.
That just made my teeth clench. Just trying to parse that snotty objection-disguised-as-question, I came up with two possibilities. One, the commenter is exceptionally bad at math and/or judging ages. Anne Hathaway has been making movies for quite a while now, it’s true, but she’ll only turn 29 next month. I don’t know if Fantine’s age is mentioned in Hugo’s novel, but late 20’s seems perfectly reasonable, doesn’t it? Suppose Fantine was 16 when she conceived her daughter (any younger feels a little too creepy) and 17 when Cosette was born, and Cosette in turn is about 9 or 10 when Fantine’s part of Les Mis plays out. So 26, 27? How in the world is 29 “way too old” to play 26? The second possibility is that the commenter is mixing up characters and thinking of Eponine, who I will grant is supposed to be about 18 and thus, yeah, casting a perilously-near-30-year-old is a bit of a stretch. But also totally not what’s happening, so either way, the commenter is an idiot. And I really wanted to point that out. But what would that accomplish? So I navigated away before my indignation got the better of me.

Still, my defenses were weakened. And then like a day later I was catching up at a forum where I do post regularly which is all about genre fiction and has a long-running thread about Writing Tips. Someone had brought up confusion between the words “affect” and “effect” and someone else said “Keeping them straight is actually easy, and I teach my students this mnemonic for it: RAVEN = Right, Affect is a Verb and Effect is a Noun.” Which … ok, first off, that’s an inaccurate oversimplification. Sometimes “affect” is used as a noun. Sometimes “effect” is used as a verb. But maybe more to the point, that is a HUGE irritant to me, when someone interrupts discussion of a legitimately complicated concept and says “oh, it’s not so complicated” and proves their point with flagrant dumbing down of the idea. Like the rest of us are making things unnecessarily cumbersome because we lack the insight to see how simple the reality is. I will totally concede that the rules of English grammar are often arbitrary and bordering on nonsensical, and that there are far worse problems in the world than people who shortcut those rules while still managing to get their points across, but the rules do exist, and they can be learned, and they do aid clarity in certain situations, and … yeah, as you can tell by how het up I am about this, I actually was even moreso in the moment and I totally commented on that thread to correct the previous post. But I felt like I was slightly justified because it wasn’t something as subjective (and stupid) as whether or not a certain actress is right for a certain part that no one will see for a couple of years yet. In a thread dedicated to useful information and tips, when someone (who, note, claims to be a TEACHER! Of some sort. Could be a part-time Kaplan tutor for all we know.) tosses out misinformation there is an element of public service in not letting that go unchallenged. Right?

I’m sure I still came across as a pompous prescriptivist, though. Little would anyone on the anonymous internet know where I was coming from …

In a world …
where one man …
found the only way to shout down the ignorant …
was to
Coming Christmas 2011 to a theater near you.

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