In my final year as a university undergrad, I took a course titled “The Birth of Humanism” — a course in Classical Thought, basically. It was a depressingly tiny class (predominantly male, in a student body that was predominantly female), shoved to the far corner of the University campus. But the prof was young and energetic, and threw himself into the near-hopeless task of generating and holding undergrad interest in Classic Greek & Roman studies.
The prof knew that if he valued his job, he had to keep every last woman in the class to the end of the term, so he gently massaged his rhetoric to maintain interest in “the virtuous MAN,” etc. But when we finally approached Plato's Republic, it was clear this dialogue which famously promotes a benign, fascist state was going to be a tough sell to students adrift in a tidal wave of Gender Studies and Reader Response Theory.
His pitch: Plato wasn't discussing matters of State, so much as he was discussing The State of the Individual. In other words, the Polis was a metaphor for the individual, and the individual who wants to remain healthy, strong and just, had bettter limber up her philosophical chops. Call it A Republic of One, if you will.
I don't know how many of us bought into his premise (I didn't), but no-one quit the class because they'd finally had a bellyful of masculine ideology. And the more I thought about it, the more I appreciated my prof's pitch. After all, “I am large, I contain multitudes” — and if those multitudes are going to generate (for starters) love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and gentleness, their contradictions will have to be marshalled with a measure of “fascist” self-control.
From Plato to Walt Whitman to Louise Rosenblatt to the Apostle Paul — you'd think a bored blogger wouldn't have to reach quite so desperately to explain the appeal of Little Miss Sunshine, but after reading these jokers exchange their “Like, hellooos”, it appears a little desperation is in order. Little Miss Sunshine is a freakin' brilliant movie because it's not about a family — it's about ME. That wheezing, farting, noisy yellow van IS ME. That van is me, and it's still carrying the corpse of the first citizen to die in my personal polis: a self-indulgent horndog who honestly thought he'd be sexually attractive into his old age. That van is me, and the only way I'm going to stay alive is if everyone in it rallies round the cheerful little dumpling in the back, who just wants to be appreciated for the beauty that she is. That's why I love the movie, and that's why it's one of the precious few movies to come out in the last year that's worth more than a passing glance.
Gasp, pant, wheeze ... alright. So, no: I'm reading fewer and fewer film critics. I do still tune in to The New Yorker (check out how David Denby ponders the mystery of Jude Law's peculiar lack of appeal — and nails it), and I make a point of seeking out David Edelstein. But that's it, really. I certainly don't waste time on Canadian (read: "The Globe & Mail", or “Toronto”) critics — well, except for Geoff Pevere on occasion. Which gets me wondering: how is it Toronto can pull together one of the world's most prestigious film festivals, without producing one single vigorous film critic?