Why Roger Ebert is the best

He is hilarious, and also such a stealth feminist:

“No Strings Attached” poses the question: Is it possible to regularly have sex with someone and not run a risk of falling in love? The answer is yes. Now that we have that settled, consider the case of Emma (Natalie Portman) and Adam (Ashton Kutcher), who first met when they were 6 and now meet when they’re maybe 26. Busy people. He’s a low-rent TV producer and she’s a medical student. She doesn’t have time for romance, and he’s dating the sexy Vanessa (played by the well-named Ophelia Lovibond).

All of this is fun while it lasts. Then the wheels of Hollywood morality begin to grind. There was a time when the very premise of this film would have been banned, but times change, and now characters can do pretty much anything as long as they don’t get away with it. Although “No Strings Attached” might have been more fun if Adam and Emma had investigated the long-term possibilities of casual sex, it is required that the specter of Romantic Love raise its ominous head. Are they … becoming too fond? Emma suggests they try sleeping with others so, you know, they won’t get too hung up on each other. If you’ve ever seen a romantic comedy you know how that works. Experience shows that not sleeping with others is the foolproof way of not getting too hung up, etc.

This is a strange film. Its premise is so much more transgressive than its execution. It’s as if the 1970s never happened, let alone subsequent decades. Emma and Adam aren’t modern characters. They’re sitcom characters allowed to go all the way like grown-ups.

You should read the whole thing. And if you’re bored and looking for more Ebert reviews, I would recommend this old-ish one, where he eviscerates Nicholas Sparks. It’s the best take-down I’ve seen since Bruni reviewed Cipriani.

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37 comments for “Why Roger Ebert is the best

  1. January 21, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    In my feminist world, actors and actresses take roles that advance society forward, plus reinforce correct gendered attitudes, not reduce characters to mere cultural stereotypes.

    If only, if only…

  2. shimmoril
    January 21, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    Too bad he’s an unapolagetic racist.

    • January 21, 2011 at 4:00 pm

      Too bad he’s an unapolagetic racist.

      Roger Ebert? Where?

  3. saurus
    January 21, 2011 at 3:58 pm

    His post on loneliness was really touching as well, and surprisingly didn’t tread into the usual directions that such posts do (i.e., “you pathetic Internet people, get a life”). I like how he tends away from the usual smug, assertive conclusions that trend pieces do, which is ironic and unexpected given his work as a critic. He comes off as thoughtful, and wondering, and uncertain, which are very becoming traits in an Internet full of hard convictions. And the comments are often equally earnest. For being an authority, he doesn’t really come off like one…

  4. shimmoril
    January 21, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    I read most of it on livejournal/dreamwidth which I can’t access at work, but this should give you the general outlines: http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/302255

    He did a bit of backpedaling, but never outright apologized.

  5. January 21, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    This movie seems so unrealistic. While it’s possible to have a no strings attatched relationship, it’s just not very common.

  6. January 21, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    Ashley, that depends on your definition of uncommon. I’m one of a large group in my city where most of the people have “no strings” sex, sometimes with each other, sometimes with people not in the group. I assure you, it’s not unrealistic.

  7. January 21, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    Maybe unrealistic wasn’t the best word. I also realize that types of relationships different in different parts of the world. I currently live in the midwest where things are more tame and relationship tend to be more traditional where couple are thinking more about marriage than anything else. Most of my friends got married within 2 years od high school graduation. I only have one single unmarried friend left. I have also lived in the big city where pretty much none of my friends or aquaintences were even considering getting married, like ever, and were having casual sex-only relationships on a regular basis, and I just couldn’t believe it or get into it (because I was raised in Indiana most of my life.) So yeah now that I think about it, I can see where casual no strings attached most be more common that what I have personally been raised around.

  8. January 21, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    Oh gosh, pardon my typos, I am running on very little sleep right now.

  9. CBrachyrhynchos
    January 21, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    The movie is rated R, but it’s the most watery R I’ve seen. It’s more of a PG-13 playing dress-up.

  10. January 21, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    From the The Last Song review: “Sparks also said his novels are like Greek Tragedies. This may actually be true. I can’t check it out because, tragically, no really bad Greek tragedies have survived.”

    Bahahahaha. I have nothing of value to add to this conversation, but that is awesome.

  11. saurus
    January 21, 2011 at 5:11 pm

    shimmoril: Too bad he’s an unapolagetic racist.  

    I remember that – in response to criticism, especially the Twitterers who aptly pointed out that he is rather unlikely to be called either, he tweeted back something like “You know, this is very true. I’ll never be called a [n-word] or a slave, so I should have shut the [expletive] up.”

    Which is close but no cigar to an apology.

  12. Pidgey
    January 21, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    I always liked this response by Dan Savage to the “Do you think it’s possible for a man and a woman to have a no strings attached booty call relationship without feelings getting involved?” question.


    His answer: “NO! There’s going to be some feelings. There are always feelings. You may just feel a certain amount of affection. When you say ‘feelings’ getting involved you probably mean without one or the other or both falling in love… you really can’t control that.”

  13. January 21, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    Agreed Pidgy.
    (It just would have taken me a lot more than a couple sentences to explain it though, that’s why I just went with quotes around no strings attached!)

  14. Bitter Scribe
    January 21, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    shimmoril, that is complete bull. There is nothing racist about Ebert and there was nothing racist about that tweet.

  15. January 21, 2011 at 11:26 pm

    Roger Ebert is the best thing on Twitter. (That’s a sentence I never thought I’d say…)

  16. January 22, 2011 at 3:14 am

    His description of the movie (at least, the part excerpted, because I haven’t read the linked article yet) makes me very happy, because it validates everything I thought about that movie after seeing the previews. omg, a guy and a gal decide to have sex and not date about it! omgomgomg! Whatever will happen? They’ll probably fall in love, right? RIGHT?!

    And meanwhile, most of us are thinking, “Um, huh? Do they think they’re the first people in the world to think of having casual sex? Who wrote this movie? Was it a real person? Why did a movie get made around this entire premise, as if no-strings-attached sex were a new concept?”

    Plus, Ashton Kutcher. Is anyone even going to see this movie?

    Also, I’m totally going to follow Ebert on Twitter now, thanks! :)

  17. Tracy
    January 22, 2011 at 6:58 am

    Interesting post.

  18. January 22, 2011 at 11:44 am

    @Bitter Scribe, Ebert may have not intended it to be hurtful but what he said implied that he was telling those who are not as privileged what term should offend them more. I’m sure he didn’t mean it that way at all, but people ought to realize what they’re implying.

  19. saurus
    January 22, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    Bitter Scribe: shimmoril, that is complete bull. There is nothing racist about Ebert and there was nothing racist about that tweet.  

    Uh, there’s something racist about almost all of us, so I find it surprising that Ebert would be entirely immune. Certainly he’s done some anti-racism work, but since when has that granted anyone anti-racism perfection?

    And I do think it’s racist for a white person to use the N-word, given its historical and ongoing connotations and use by white people, but it was even more problematic for him to comment on whether he’d be more personally offended by being called the N-word or “slave” – given that he’d certainly never be called these things, nor would they have the same weight even if directed at him, given that he’s not a person of color.

    At any rate, his tweet missed the point – the whole Tom Sawyer kerfuffle wasn’t about finding an unobjectionable phrase for the white characters in the book to use (like “pal”, for example), but about finding one that has a similarly negative connotations as the n-word without having to use the n-word directly, which is more commonly regarded these days as a profanity. I’m not saying whether I agree with the publisher’s move or not – I think it’s a missed teaching opportunity about racism and language, actually – but his tweet wasn’t on point, or acceptable.

    Now, he did acknowledge that he shouldn’t have said it, but given the amount of sensitivity he usually exercises, his “apology” tweet fell rather suspiciously short. Was he sorry, or just sorry he got caught? I hope it was the former, but he never made that clear…

  20. Bitter Scribe
    January 22, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    Some people you give the benefit of the doubt to in these situations, others, you don’t. As a lifelong Chicagoan who has long admired Roger Ebert, I feel confident in stating that he has earned the benefit of the doubt here. He was making an entirely valid point about the ludicrousness of bowdlerizing Huck Finn.

  21. January 22, 2011 at 4:34 pm


    Given his marriage, he probably has been called “[n-word]-lover” a few times. Does this give him any latitude at all, in your opinion?

    Also, I think it would have made much more sense for the bowdlerized version to go with “negro” instead of “slave”. That usage might give kids the mistaken impression that once slavery was abolished, racism was no longer a problem.

  22. January 22, 2011 at 5:04 pm

    I love Roger Ebert, too, and I’d missed his review on this movie until now. I was just talking about this movie the other day, and my brother couldn’t understand why I was railing against the premise of this movie. He hadn’t thought about the movie’s storyline (if we can call it that), but just assumed that I, a big Natalie Portman fan, would want to see her movie. Why would people want to see a movie (in 2011!) where it was taken as revolutionary that a woman might want sex without a relationship. But oh wait, she does need more, they both need more, it can’t just be sex. Hollywood can’t seem to fathom that sex need not be equated with love and that a woman might not want to just screw sometimes. I’m glad Roger does.

  23. Mechelle
    January 22, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    Michael Crichton: saurus:Given his marriage, he probably has been called “[n-word]-lover” a few times. Does this give him any latitude at all, in your opinion?Also, I think it would have made much more sense for the bowdlerized version to go with “negro” instead of “slave”. That usage might give kids the mistaken impression that once slavery was abolished, racism was no longer a problem.  

    I cannot speak for saurus, but I can speak for myself. As a Black person, I believe a White person being called a nigger lover and a Black person being called a Nigger are not comparable. Yes, he may have been called a N-lover, but who is being referred to as the N in his relationship? His wife, not him. He loves the n…They are not specifically calling him the n-word, as they are his wife. I would also say being called a n-lover does not give a White person anymore latitude over the use of the n-word. It still isn’t the same as being a Black person and being called the n-word and doesn’t carry the same weight or historical background.

  24. saurus
    January 22, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    Michael Crichton: saurus:Given his marriage, he probably has been called “[n-word]-lover” a few times. Does this give him any latitude at all, in your opinion?

    No. Nothing, in my opinion, gives a white person the “latitude” to say the N-word and get a pass. And it’s not like I said we should throw him into the dark tower and serve him bread and water, so I don’t know why some people are so determined that I cut him any slack. I merely said his statement was racist and problematic, and I don’t see how his marriage to Chaz makes his statement any less so, nor do I see why there’s some pressing need for me to “give him the benefit of the doubt”. I like his writing, I think he’s probably a kind person, and I also think he wrote a very racist tweet and never properly apologized for it. So? Is there only room in our minds for Good Guy / Bad Guy, or can we fit a realistic Robert Ebert in there?

  25. tinfoil hattie
    January 22, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    “Does this give him any latitude at all, in your opinion?”

    Do people who have black friends also get a pass? I mean, after all! They have black friends!

    How does a white man get to decide which racist term is “worse”? He’ll never be called either. I could say the same thing he did, and it would be meaningless. Big brave words coming from a person who will never know what it feels like to be called a pejorative racist term.

    His comment was appalling, his shrugging non-apology added insult to injury.

  26. Ens
    January 22, 2011 at 7:12 pm

    I’m a little confused about the perspective on his “non-apology”, and in full disclosure I am a white person.

    I always saw people just saying “I’m sorry” as a non-apology. It has the form of an apology but expresses no actual regret or understanding of what they did that was wrong or that they know and would be willing to take steps to fix it. That’s not to say that “I’m sorry” isn’t used by people genuinely sorry, or can’t be appreciated, but in and of itself it can’t be separated from “I’m sorry [that I got caught]”.

    Meanwhile, Ebert’s tweet expressed understanding that he did something wrong, what it was he did wrong, why it was wrong that he did it, and what he should have done differently; with no blame placed on the hurt parties for being hurt. It seems like a more genuine apology to me than most I’ve ever seen? Especially in 144 characters.

    That doesn’t erase doing it in the first place (even a perfect apology wouldn’t), I guess I’m just confused what makes the difference between a good apology and a non-apology.

  27. PrettyAmiable
    January 22, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    Ens, I had a similar thought process – but more applied to my own real-life apologizing. I think I rarely say the words “I’m sorry” precisely because after a while it sounds hollow – and especially because as a woman, I feel like I’ve been socialized to say sorry for everything ever, so those words have become particularly meaningless to me. Even when someone wrongs me, if they say I’m sorry, I immediately say, “For what?” – because that’s what matters to me – that they know how they fucked up and aren’t just saying words so that we shift back to the status quo.

    That said, it’s clear that everyone has a different take on apologies and what constitutes a good one. I think the big take away is that regardless of what form the apology takes (if it happens at all), we’re not obligated to forgive someone who has messed up.

  28. ACG
    January 22, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    (Also a white person, just to disclose.) Ens, I agree with you that it seems to be a genuine apology, recognizing basically that “I have absolutely no perspective or life experience that could possibly inform what I just said, so I shouldn’t have said it.” It’s not really an apology, though, because he doesn’t follow through with, “And I’m really sorry I hurt people.” As a person who was not among the injured parties, of course, I’m willing to give him point for steps A and B (A: I know that what I did was bad and why it was bad; B: I know that I shouldn’t have done it and won’t ever do it again) but still withhold points for C (C: and I’m really sorry). Still, two out of three.

  29. Fine
    January 22, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    Roger Ebert is a fantastic film reviewer. Love his work. more power to him.

  30. tinfoil hattie
    January 23, 2011 at 11:31 am

    Saying “I’m sorry” is a non-apology? What do you think “I’m sorry” means? Yeesh!

  31. PrettyAmiable
    January 23, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    That’s the point though, isn’t it? To me, it sounds completely meaningless because I think most people toss it off in a meaningless way. I’d rather someone display they had reflected on what transpired. Again, not everyone needs to agree with that (…except people who pissed me off and want to be friends with me again, haha).

  32. Tom Foolery
    January 24, 2011 at 10:30 am

    “I should have shut the fuck up” sounds like a pretty unreserved apology to me, far moreso than the mealy-mouthed apologies we get from most other media figures.

    What was this post about, again?

  33. Politicalguineapig
    January 24, 2011 at 11:27 am

    Let the February fest of bad romance movies begin! I have to say, as a romance-hater, I tend to make it a rule to avoid any movie made in February. All the good movies come out in December or June.
    I think I read the take-down of Nicholas Sparks- a thing of beauty. I always wonder why Sparks is still writing. All of his books are so wet you could use them as sponges, and they probably don’t even have any S-E-X in them- which is the only reason most women read romance novels.

  34. willa
    January 24, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    I read romances for a different reason–and for a reason that many other romance readers read romances (ha!!): the t-t-t-t-tennnnsssion.

    A good romance has lots and lots and lots of tension in it–in Regency romances, there is no sex at all. In many romances, the most you’ll see is a kiss. That’s it.

    I’ve realized that what I want is generally a scene, a particular scene, my own sort of emotional money shot.

    Many readers seem to want a particular storyline climax, a particular scene, that they return to again and again–the one I’m thinking of is the Big Alpha Male Hero treating the Long-Suffering Beautiful Heroine like crap over a stupid misunderstanding for most of the book–tension, tension, tension!–until FINALLY at the climax of the story, the Alpha Male Hero realizes the error of his ways, is basically devastated by his misunderstanding, and then moves mountains to prove he is worthy of the Long-Suffering Heroine and to beg her forgiveness. That is THE scene. Very heady stuff. I actually cannot stand that trope, but it is a popular one.

    I mean, yeah, one big reason people read romances is because of the sex, but it’s only one reason.

  35. Politicalguineapig
    January 24, 2011 at 10:32 pm

    Okay, I can get the tension: I’m watching a series on PBS that is chockfull of it, but the emotions.. um, no. I don’t like to deal with my emotions, and I don’t like books where people sop up the set, so to speak. I like science fiction mainly because of all the robots. No messy human emotions there- or, at least, not many of them.
    (I also wanted to be a robot when I was a kid, but then again, I also wanted to be skinny and blonde.Thank god I didn’t get my wish.)

  36. January 27, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    @shimmoril “Too bad he’s an unapolagetic racist.”

    He did apologize though, and he did so without having to be asked twice. While it would have been better if he hadn’t made such a major fuck-up, I have to say I really appreciate and admire when someone (especially a progressive) responds that way to being called on hir bullshit.

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