Posted by Danielle Berrin
This is what happens when journalists become star-struck.
At first, Edith Zimmerman’s provocative and personal profile of “Captain America’s” Chris Evans—in which she likens their interview to a tryst—reminded me of something. But despite some similarities, my experience was the inverse of Zimmerman’s lusty late-night with the rising star, though the compulsory (and compelling) first person point of view is the same. The common thread bespeaks a broader truth: that there are complex intimacies that develop between journalists and their subjects because inside a finite space and time, something essential or truthful is supposed to emerge. And you have to dig for it. You have to be open to whatever it takes to get there. On an interview with a perfect stranger, you find yourself asking deeply personal questions you might not ask your closest friends, or partaking in dizzying activities that are leaps and bounds beyond your everyday life; there’s something almost surreal about it, the revolving door that casts you in and out of other people’s worlds—but it’s your job after all, so you go with it.
The conundrum of course is a question of journalistic ethics. If you’re too close, if you’re having too much fun (or conversely, if you’re degraded in some way), how can you be objective? And is objectivity the only end in this kind of journalism? News reporting is another matter, but when it comes to telling stories about individuals, it’s always harder to be objective about someone you know. As in any reporting, the pursuit of a good story sometimes obscures proper boundaries. True, Zimmerman’s profile reads more like a diary entry than an invitation into Evans’ psyche, but it is nonetheless entertaining and well-expressed.
For your reading pleasure, if nothing else:
“chris evans pecs. how do they FEEL? like smooth stone from the souvenir shop?”
…is the instant message that pops up on my computer one Monday morning in April. My friend Kyle follows it up with a link to the gossip pages of the New York Daily News: I am being described as the “mystery maiden” Evans introduced to his mother at a premiere party; we held hands, the paper is reporting, “in a flirty manner,” and he even placed “one of them on his chest.” Oh.
When I started working on this profile, I decided on a “say yes to everything, try to be cool” approach, with the idea that maybe I’d capture something real about the star of Captain America: The First Avenger—or as “real” as could be hoped for/faked in the time we had together. But in the days since my first interview with Chris Evans, I’d drunk myself under the table, snuck out of his house at five thirty in the morning, bummed a ride home off a transsexual, been teased mercilessly in front of his mother, and now—this bit in the paper.
I don’t remember touching his chest, which is too bad.
Since we’re both single and roughly the same age, it was hard for me not to treat our interview as a sort of date. Surprisingly, Chris did the same, asking all about me, my family, my job, my most recent relationship. And from ten minutes into that first interview, when he reached across the table to punctuate a joke by putting his hand on top of mine, Chris kept up frequent hand holding and lower-back touching, palm kissing and knee squeezing. He’s an attractive movie star, no complaints. I also didn’t know how much I was supposed to respond; when I did, it sometimes felt a little like hitting on the bartender or misconstruing the bartender’s professional flirting for something more. I wanted to think it was genuine, or that part of it was, because I liked him right away.
Is this the part of a celebrity profile where I go into how blue the star’s eyes are? Because they are very blue.
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June 16, 2011 | 1:18 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
I’m working on a piece about Holocaust fatigue—vis a vis “X-Men”—and one of my favorite articles on the subject is an insightful and prescient essay by New York Times film critic A.O. Scott, from 2008:
“Hollywood trades in optimism, redemption and healing, and its rendering of even the most appalling realities inevitably converts their dire facts into its own shiny currency.”
June 15, 2011 | 3:32 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Men may soon complain that they’re being objectified.
In recent weeks, national public discourse has steadily focused on the male sex organ. First, California ballot measures advocating for the ban of male circumcision caught national attention, sparking intense debate between proponents of the religious ritual (“It has health benefits!”) and those who oppose it (“It’s genital mutilation!”). And then, in a discomfiting display of his own Semitic snip, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) injudiciously Tweeted a picture of his package to an online coquette, unleashing a flurry of online-liaison confessionals and prompting calls for him to resign from Congress.
Before that, the spotlight shone squarely on Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, whose stunning sexual appetites led to emasculating consequences.
How ironic, then, that tales of male sexual deviance are met with reminders of religious restraint. God can be so calculating. All these “peccant peckers,” as Christopher Hitchens calls them, have men, in general, in a pickle.
Naturally, a first line of defense is to protect one’s private part.
During a friendly Tweetin’ tussle last week with his producer Eli Roth, actor Russell Crowe expressed his contempt for cutting: “Circumcision is barbaric and stupid,” he direct-tweeted to the “Inglourious Basterds” star.
“Who are you to correct nature? Is it real that God requires a donation of foreskin? Babies are perfect. [I have] many Jewish friends, I love my Jewish friends, I love the apples and the honey and the funny little hats but stop cutting yr [your] babies.”
That Crowe, who won stardom (and an Oscar) for playing a Roman gladiator, is unable to distinguish between real barbarism and a religious ritual that profits health is mildly dispiriting, especially when one of circumcision’s central aims is to curb male barbarism. Men are supposed to be reminded of God and, one could argue, moral behavior, in the very place they are most likely to betray religious ideals.
“Circumcision is the indelible symbol that a man can be more than just an animal,” Rabbi Ed Feinstein, senior rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom, said. “The fact that you seal your connection with God and with tradition into that organ makes it incredibly difficult for that organ to be used as a weapon of manipulation or destruction. For men, this is the center of being: Is masculinity to be defined in terms of power and violence, or control and strength? What you see in the news is what happens when men make the wrong choice.”
All the hullabaloo over men behaving badly has proved an opportune moment for women, who are foisting their feminist critiques about different gendered approaches to power.
“[M]aybe feminists have learned that male development stops at power,” New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote about a string of prominent men — Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, et al — involved in high-profile sex scandals.
On ABC’s “This Week With Christiane Amanpour,” a roundtable discussion on sex and politics became an exercise in female moral superiority.
“You’d be hard pressed to find a sex scandal involving a female politician these days,” Amanpour began, “which begs the question: What if there were more women in politics and in positions of power? Would they change the way business is done from Washington to Wall Street and beyond?”
The panel included a former Bush administration official and, strangely, Cécilia Attias, the former first lady of France and Nicolas Sarkozy’s second wife, who ran off with her lover during their marriage. But the discussion resorted to clichés: Women don’t cheat “because we don’t have the time”; “the perils of too much testosterone”; “women are attracted to [men in] power,” etc. By contast, an essay in Sunday’s New York Times suggested that while women enter politics more nobly to “do something” with their power, the seemingly shallower sex does so to “become something.”
“Women run because there is some public issue that they care about, some change they want to make, some issue that is a priority for them, and men tend to run for office because they see this as a career path,” Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, told The Times.
Women are seizing upon this man-down moment to vent long-held beliefs and assert hard-won power. Soon, they have learned, all will be forgotten; men will be forgiven their transgressions (see: Clinton, Spitzer) while their female co-conspirators languish in disgrace (see: Monica Lewinsky, Tiger Woods’ mistresses, call girls, porn stars, college students and housekeepers).
The double standard endures, and women are fed up.
“In five decades, we’ve moved from the pre-feminist mantra about the sexual peccadilloes of married men — Boys will be boys — to post-feminist resignation: Men are dogs,” Dowd wrote last week.
Leave it to men, then, to enlarge ideas about the nature of their desires. The actor Alec Baldwin, whose own animal-ish impulses qualify him to comment, defended Weiner on The Huffington Post: “[H]e probably spends a great deal of time going to meetings, raising campaign funds and seizing upon every opportunity to remind people of how great he is as a public servant and a human being. It’s exhausting,” Baldwin wrote. “He exists under a constant pressure cooker of self-analysis and public appraisal. Like other politicians, he needs something to take the edge off.”
What powerful and public men crave may not be merely sex but a release from responsibility. Sometimes the only way to feel like a man is to act like one. Properly understood, circumcision is the sole barrier between instinct and utter ruin, and men could use a pointed reminder that sometimes inertia is more intelligent than impulse.
June 15, 2011 | 3:06 pm
Posted by Hollywood Jew
The Oscar winning actress and her fiancé Benjamin Millepied are now the proud parents of a baby boy. Born Wed. morning, that’s pretty much all we know for sure. The famously private actress is keeping tight-lipped about the baby’s name and place of birth, and has not released photos of the newborn.
Portman and baby daddy Millepied met on the set of Black Swan, where Millepied served as the film’s choreographer. Portman received the highest praise of her career for her portrayal of the troubled ballerina Nina Sayers and went on to win that golden eight-and-half-pound Oscar.
But all we really care about is the question: To snip or not to snip? Amidst all the recent controversy surrounding circumcision, we’re dying to know if the Israeli-born Portman will wait to name her baby at the bris, as is customary in jewish tradition, or is the couple on the side of the “intactavists” who consider circumcision a form of genital mutilation.
Either way Mazel Tov Natalie and Benjamin!
June 13, 2011 | 2:29 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Peter Beinart thinks Weiner should stay in office and the public should quit reveling over his disgrace.
He writes at The Daily Beast:
Truth be told, I don’t think the real reason pundits are baying for Weiner’s head has anything to do with his ability to be a good congressman. It’s more primal than that. We live in a kick-them-while-they’re-down culture. We love to see the powerful humiliated because it proves that they were no better than us to begin with. Yet we simultaneously imagine that because they’re powerful and famous, they don’t need the empathy that we’d desire were we in their stead. Instead of being moved by their suffering, we revel in it.
Credible allegations of nonconsensual sex—the kind of thing Dominique Strauss-Kahn is alleged to have done—are absolutely fair game. But when it comes to adultery and virtual adultery between consenting adults, it’s way past time that prominent figures in the media loudly declare that it is none of their business, and they won’t join the scrum.
Columnists and talk show hosts who obsess over trivialities such as Weinergate should be called out by their peers. And politicians asked about their consensual sex lives by journalists should say that they will answer on condition that the reporters and their editors answer the same questions about theirs.
As far as we know, Weiner didn’t break any laws, abuse his power or mistreat his online lady loves, in which case he probably doesn’t deserve complete political ruin. But as far as his continued fitness for public office is concerned, there is an issue of damaged public trust. Weiner may not be Strauss-Kahn, and adultery may not be the most egregious of misdeeds, but Weiner betrayed the woman to whom he is meant to be most loyal, and if his own wife can’t trust him, why should we? On the other hand, unlike former Israeli president Moshe Katsav, Weiner isn’t responsible for ordering the nation’s teenagers into war so the extent to which we need to trust him is limited.
June 12, 2011 | 11:33 pm
Posted by Danielle Berrin
After a seven year struggle with breast cancer, film industry trailblazer Laura Ziskin died Sunday at her home in Santa Monica, CA. She was 61.
Ziskin was the producer of the “Spider-Man” series for Sony Pictures, the third installment of which became the top-grossing film in Sony’s history. She also produced the modern classic “Pretty Woman,” “Hero” starring Dustin Hoffman, the dark comedy “To Die For” that helped catapult actress Nicole Kidman to fame as well as the Oscar-nominated “As Good As it Gets.” Ziskin became the first woman to serve as sole executive producer for the Oscars in 2002 and returned to helm the telecast again in 2007.
In the midst of her fight against cancer, Ziskin founded the non profit organization Stand Up 2 Cancer in 2008.
In November 2009, talent manager Joan Hyler lauded Ziskin’s tireless work ethic on her blog, Hollywood Insider:
Thinking of Hollywood Matriarchs - I am impressed by many who semi retire like Sherry Lansing, after a full career as a producer and studio head - and use their money and power in philanthropic pursuits. Laura Ziskin (still actively producing the “Spiderman” series) is using her power and money to fight cancer. Both Jewish girls, these powerful women are worthy of our Torah female prototypes: they live in the world and use their accomplishments for the greater good.
Read more at Variety:
Ziskin fought a seven-year battle with breast cancer, yet remained one of the biz’s busiest producers and a champion of causes close to her heart, including Stand Up 2 Cancer, the non-profit org she helped launch in 2008. Earlier this year, she was honored by the Producers Guild of America with its Visionary Award.
On the big screen, Ziskin steered one of the most successful film franchises in B.O. history as the producer of Sony Pictures’ “Spider-Man” series. The first three pics in the series that began in 2002 broke B.O. records around the globe, with “Spider-Man 3” ranking as the highest-grossing pic in the history of Sony Pictures.
The fourth installment, a reboot with a new cast, wrapped production last month.
June 10, 2011 | 11:39 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
“Who are you to correct nature? Is it real that God requires a donation of foreskin? Babies are perfect. (I have) many Jewish friends, I love my Jewish friends, I love the apples and the honey and the funny little hats but stop cutting yr (your) babies. I will always believe in God, not man’s interpretation of what God requires… Last of it, if u feel it is yr (your) right 2 (to) cut things off yr (your) babies please unfollow and f**k off, I’ll take attentive parenting over barbarism.”
Crowe’s overstatement is what’s stupid (and insensitive), especially during a week in which headlines coming out of Syria tell of real savagery and inhumanity. But he’s an actor, so we’ll forgive his predilection for dramatics and simply suggest he read real newspapers along with the trades.
Oh, and by the way Mr. Crowe, they’re called “yarmulkes.” I agree they’re a bit funny-looking, but next time you’re trying to make a case that a religious practice is stupid, you might want to learn a thing or two about it so your argument comes off stronger.
UPDATE: After some Twitter tussle, the contrite contrarian softened his tone and this morning tweeted: “I have a deep and abiding love for all people of all nationalities, I’m very sorry that I have said things on here that have caused distress. My personal beliefs aside I realize that some will interpret this debate as me mocking the rituals and traditions of others. I am very sorry.”
June 9, 2011 | 10:48 am
Posted by Danielle Berrin
Step aside Paris, a new parvenu plans to snatch the spotlight and her name is Deborah Denise Trachtenberg, or, Devorah Rose, as she prefers to be called (it’s a new trend: trading your Jewish-sounding name for a biblical one!)
The twenty-something self-made socialite is the editor in chief of Social Life, a bi-monthly glossy based in the Hamptons. According to a recent New York Times profile, the position has garnered her enough attention to gain entry to exclusive society parties and has sparked dreams for reality television stardom. Reality TV, she told The Times, is “the new Hollywood.”
Rose does not reveal her age (“I always lie about my age” she told The Times) or her full family details, but offered a brief glimpse of her background: born in Texas, moved to Venezuela, then to Boston, and finally settled in New York in the 1990s. She has a Venezuelan-born mother and a Guatemalan father. Besides her biblical-sounding name, the article makes no mention of her Jewish background, except to say that when she was 6, she and her mother moved to Newton, “a predominately upscale Jewish suburb of Boston.”
The blogosphere is none too kind to Devorah. Gawker called her “a professional partygoer” and a “pro-ana bitch” (this term I had to look up; according to Wikipedia, it refers to “the promotion of the eating disorder anorexia”). Rachelle Hruska, who writes the party blog GuestofaGuest.com told The Times Rose is not considered a real socialite but “more of a fameball and not someone people take seriously.”
But in an age when crafting your own persona and marketing it to the masses is de rigueur, Rose deserves a little credit for her impact. I can’t imagine The Times would choose to profile someone they deemed insignificant, however silly or fleeting that person’s fame. And while her Hollywood ambitions may not seem admirable to some, her Hamptons-storming chutzpah is a scarce skill.