Buffalo’s Tom Friedman

I started reading The Buffalo News in earnest when I was in high school, moving from the kid-targeted NeXt section to Friday’s Gusto, where I would see what movies were coming out and who was playing at Thursday at the Square. It was then that I first came across then-movie critic, now-arts and books editor Jeff Simon. A running joke in my friend group was that a good barometer of whether to see a movie was what Jeff Simon thought of it – if he liked it, chances are it sucked. Admittedly, we were shitheel teenage snobs, but the guy reliably lauded terrible family comedies while giving middling reviews (Jeff Simon rarely, if ever, gives bad reviews) to anything we were interested in. Unless it was European, in which case – genius. It’s worth noting that this recollection comes more than ten years after the fact, so it’s impressionistic the way memories are, but, the way impressionistic things are, it captures the spirit of what’s represented.

The advent of the internet all but eliminated any contact I had with Jeff Simon’s writing. I went to school in Fredonia and began reading what movie reviews I read any more online. I hadn’t thought about the guy or his stultifying columns for years until someone on Twitter pointed out a column he wrote a week ago wondering whether Bill Cosby “is still news at this stage.” The thesis was no, Bill Cosby is not news at this stage because a consensus has been reached that he is serial rapist. Never mind the fact that that week the New York Times had obtained and printed a deposition where he admitted to drugging women and using his fame and wealth to pressure them into having sex with him. Old news! Zzzzzz. Jeff’s heard it. Next!

Interestingly, Simon spent several hundred words explaining how all but the most recalcitrant Cosbyites have come on board to the idea that he probably raped a whole bunch of people and twice touched on the extent of Cosby’s stature in American culture (including the absolute gem of a sentence: “Our trouble is that whatever the accusers might want, he is never going to stop being a giant and extraordinary figure in the HISTORY of American culture and comedy”), but still couldn’t put together how the man’s 10-year-old admission that he plied women with sedatives in order to have sex with them might possibly be considered newsworthy. Perhaps more interestingly, he accused news outlets reporting on Cosby of doing so because Cosby stories are just clickbait, implying what about his own column I don’t know.

I tweeted, tagging the News‘s account the way you do, that their perennially out of touch critic had emitted a trainwreck of a hot take on Bill Cosby. I also tweeted at the person that originally shared Simon’s take that I thought he was all-caps TERRIBLE. Probably a little hyperbolic, but it’s twitter. I thought I was done with Jeff Simon again until the next day when he popped up in my mentions with a snarky retort.

We had a back and forth and it was clear that the “out of touch” comment was what really bugged him, and I felt sort of bad about that. I’m a crank, but I don’t like hurting people’s feelings. That is, I felt sort of bad about calling Jeff Simon out of touch until I read this week’s column in which he, with the grit and resolve of a man whose relevance has been publicly questioned by someone who thinks “Ant-Man” probably wasn’t a good movie, totally validated me.

The point of Simon’s hot take du semaine is (as far as I can decipher) that in the face of the “pure homicidal craziness” of mass shootings, we still need to make “bold” movies. It’s hard to say, though. The column is an absolute mess.

Simon begins with the premise that the perpetrators of last week’s movie theater shooting in Louisiana and the shooting three years ago in Colorado selected their targets based on the “boldness” of the respective movies playing in the theaters they targeted. What in god’s name does he mean by boldness? you may wonder. That’s a good question; I’ll let Simon answer it in his own words:

In Aurora, the killer opened up at showings of “The Dark Knight Rises,” in some ways the most extraordinary of “Batman” movies, not least in its conception of the Joker as an instrument of vengeful chaos and misrule. One needn’t be a prodigy of empathy to understand that James Holmes was making the Joker real in that movie theater. His smile in his mugshot is the Joker’s smile.

Oh. “The Dark Knight Rises” is bold because of how it portrayed the Joker. Except the Joker wasn’t in that movie! I am an unrepentant nerd, especially when it comes to Batman, so forgive me blowing my top here, but this is exactly what I mean when I said that Jeff Simon is out of touch!

Already Simon’s column makes no sense because its author has confused “The Dark Knight Rises,” where the shooting happened, with its similarly titled – and I’ll venture considerably “bolder” – prequel “The Dark Knight,” where no mass shooting happened. But I want to keep going, so assume arguendo that either James Holmes murdered 12 people in a 2008 movie theater where “The Dark Knight” was playing or that Heath Ledger didn’t die and boldly appeared as the Joker in 2012’s “The Dark Knight Rises.”

In Lafayette, the killer shot up theater showing the Amy Schumer vehicle “Trainwreck.” This movie is bold, according to Jeff Simon, because “its very special hilarity depends on a huge quantity of sexual frankness and total sympathy for a female point of view that is far from commonplace in American movies.” And the shooter killed the people watching it because he hated porn and presumably equated frank, feminist sexuality with pornography.

So we have two movies (actually one movie, because Jeff Simon can’t keep his Batman sequels straight) that were targeted for mass murder because of their boldness. In the case of “The Dark Knight Rises” it was because the killer identified with the bold characterization of the movie’s villain. In the case of “Trainwreck” it was because the killer hated the boldness of the movie’s treatment of sex. In either case, cinematic boldness (however poorly defined) drove these men over the edge.

So now that we have identified the thread connecting these tragedies, what do we take away from it? Fuck if I know. Because this isn’t about, apparently, trying to figure out why these murderers murdered:

Blame, of course, is by no means the issue.

Simon posits that while “beefed up security” at certain bold movies will be the new normal, and rightly so, we must not let fear rule the day, because if we fear boldness, then the crazies will win:

Critics have to keep on applauding as loudly and vigorously as possible for boldness in movies. The idea of movie people paralyzed by fear and remorse that they never, for a second, earned is repugnant in the extreme.

Guys, The Buffalo News‘s Jeff Simon is fighting the war on boldness and, by god, he might win!

With too much of a self-righteous head of steam built up to consider that literally no one is suggesting that anyone stop making “bold” movies, Simon plows ahead to what you might generously call a conclusion that, were it not for his total lack of self-awareness, you’d think was a meta-comment on the total incomprehensibility of this column:

But it seems to me we have to acknowledge that there is a logic to craziness – a hideous and totally perverted logic, to be sure, but a logic nevertheless.

Read that again. Leaving aside the fact that it’s reductive and (as a person who has dealt with mental illness for my entire life) offensive for people with no expertise in mental health to diagnose anyone who does commits an atrocity as “crazy,” what the fuck could this possibly even mean?! Most people’s definition of “craziness” entails a dearth of logic. In the US legal system, an insane person has so little logic as to render them not culpable for their bad acts.

Is Simon saying that the hideous perverted logic of the crazy killers led them to fire guns into crowded movie theaters? What logical process would that be? There seems to be a certain logic to this column. It at least has the shape of an argument. I mean, one of the initial assumptions is factually incorrect and even if it weren’t, there is no logical operation that I can think of that would flow from it and Simon’s other premise to his conclusion (whatever that even is). Is Jeff Simon crazy? As far as we know, he hasn’t killed anyone for watching something bold. Let’s just press on.

To recap: There were shootings at movie theaters showing two (but one really) bold movies. Though the shooters were crazy, they were also logical and chose those movies because they were bold. But we should not blame boldness because, despite driving these violent acts, boldness is good.


Simon continues:

So we’re seeing repeatedly that brilliance and boldness are what awaken malice at its most deranged. It was John Lennon of the Beatles who would have his hideous rendezvous with Mark David Chapman, not Jon Bon Jovi. It was John F. Kennedy who would be assassinated on that day in Dallas and Martin Luther King on that hideous day in Memphis.

That’s right y’all, the assault on the brilliance and boldness of Amy Schumer having premaritals with Bill Hader and pal-ing around with Hipster Lebron James is comparable to the assassination of America’s preeminent civil rights leader. Both of which comparable to the boldness of John Lennon’s music which awakened the malice of Mark David Chapman to become obsessed with “The Catcher in the Rye” and then shoot Lennon down, not to mention the boldness of Christopher Nolan’s Oscar-winning action flick “The Dark Knight Rises,” which definitely starred Heath Ledger as the Joker. Also, Jon Bon Jovi is not bold, that’s why no one shot him.

Though the whole column is really a treasure trove of utter nonsense phrased like Zen platitudes that must have made Simon feel like the kid in “A Christmas Story” writing his BB gun essay, I want to highlight just three more.

To many of us, “The Dark Knight Rises” was a $250 million art film.

No one thinks “The Dark Knight Rises” was an art film. This column, a 1000-word meditation on cinematic boldness, is based on teasing out the flimsiest connection between two crimes when the author (an arts critic) can’t even be bothered to correctly identify one of the films involved.

From two awful events which are separated by years in time with only the fact that they took place in movie theaters in common, Simon imagines a war on boldness and exhorts us (against no opposition) to continue making bold films, in spite of what horrors bold cinema will elicit from the crazies of the world. Which brings me to the second quote:

Craziness, as I said, always has a logic of its own, idiotic though it is.

All we can do is everything we can do to make sure sanity and creative boldness prevail.

Crazy, Idiotic, Logic, huh? Sounds bold to me.