Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Dilemma . . . for your enjoyment.


Other day, I was forwarded a long email from a film studies professional, objecting in what I can only describe as vivid and (it seemed to me) marginally unhinged terms to something I had written in one paragraph of a DVD review published over two years ago. I'd like to respond to it, and since I have some reason to suspect that the contents of the email were originally intended for more eyes than mine own (there was talk of an aborted public posting before it was sent to me) I would like to do so here before the multitudes.

But ultimately is was not made public, and I fear I would cause this individual some embarrassment if I raised the curtain on this tantrum, even before an audience as small as this. That said, I think some of the issues raised in the email . . . the vision that segments of the cinephile community thoughtlessly devote themselves to . . . are worthy of exposure.

As David Mamet would put it, d'you see?

One voice I trust says don't make it any more public than it is; another (trusted equally) tells me I have a gold mine on my hands and to run up and down the épater le bourgeois countryside with it. What does I do?

9 comments:

Flickhead said...

What would Hunter Thompson do?

Flickhead said...

Here's a thought: why not have the site that ran your review post the letter?

Peter Nellhaus said...

The gauntlet has been thrown. The difference between a film studies professional and some of the rest of us is that the professional had better luck at the job market.

Ian W. said...

And there's no way to write about the issues involved without specific quotes from the tantrum-letter?

Have you not asked the writer for permission, or does the "marginally unhinged" aspect make you not want to respond personally?

It sounds like the issues involved should be dealt with -- but unless you were outright told you had the right to post direct quotes, I wouldn't do it (not for any legal reason, as far as I'm concerned, just cuz it's rude and tacky).

There are other sites I read that will do that with unpleasant emails they receive, but they usually have a clearly-stated policy that any emails sent to them are open for posting.

IWH
CollisionWorks

Tom Sutpen said...

Monsieur Head-of-Flick:

That's an extremely good idea, given that it may have been intended for that site in the first place; my only issue then would be whether the site in question would accept my response to the email . . . just like The New York Review of Books, let's say . . . in the interests of a full and unfettered exchange.

Peter:

I have nothing to say on that point, because, you see, I'm in total agreement with it.

Okay, I will say this: I don't have anything against this person or what they do; I didn't when I wrote the article and I don't now. I will confess to some general misgivings I have over the class/status traps cinephiles allow themselves to fall into (particularly since I've found myself on the business end of them more than one time these last four years), but that shouldn't be taken as a sign of personal animus, as it was here.

As individuals, I gots nothing but respect and much love for my fellow cinephiles.

Ian:

And there's no way to write about the issues involved without specific quotes from the tantrum-letter?

It's possible, at least if I stuck to quoting no more than specific words and/or phrases (a major point of contention in this email was my use of a single word). But I'm inclined not to do that. I'd rather not risk the imputation that I'm taking anything out of context. If I represent this person's words at all, I'd prefer to do it in full, and without an editorial hand.

Have you not asked the writer for permission, or does the "marginally unhinged" aspect make you not want to respond personally?

Somewhat. The two people I forwarded it to seem to concur that, at the very least, there is vastly more outrage here than the slight, even if it were intended (and it wasn't), warrants. I'm not suggesting this person is unhinged, by the way, merely that their close to 1,000-word tirade (and there's really no other word for it) can be said to embody that condition.

It sounds like the issues involved should be dealt with -- but unless you were outright told you had the right to post direct quotes, I wouldn't do it (not for any legal reason, as far as I'm concerned, just cuz it's rude and tacky).

There are other sites I read that will do that with unpleasant emails they receive, but they usually have a clearly-stated policy that any emails sent to them are open for posting.


No argument on that; and if this email were sent or forwarded kike any other then I wouldn't be mentioning it. But my understanding of events is that this person tried to post it . . . publicly . . . on Bright Lights Film Journal's blog, presumably because I'm on the roster of contributors over there. When that failed it was sent to the editor at BLFJ who then forwarded it to me (incidentally, BLFJ had zero involvement with this article. I did not write it for them).

Not only was there this attempt at a public posting before I ever saw it, the rant itself isn't addressed directly to me; its form and tense is more that of a Letter to the Editor ("Mr. Sutpen said . . . ", "Mr. Sutpen thinks . . . ", etc.) than an ordinary email. In fact now that I think of it, there's no indication in the email itself that this individual ever intended for it to be sent to me at all.

So there's enough of a gray area here for me to scratch my head in public like this. Again, if it were like any other email (even a second-hand, forwarded one) or if I'd been told to keep it to myself, I wouldn't think about this for two consecutive seconds (I completely agree with the "rude and tacky" point). I'm not about to ambush anyone, even when they deserve it.

Whatever be the case . . . Happy New Year, all (and thinks for dropping by, Ian)!

Flickhead said...

Mr. Sutpen,

I just got off the phone with the editor of the online magazine in question and he said, certainly, go right ahead and reply to the e-mail rant. He was quite thrilled about the prospect of running the piece with your response and assured me he wouldn't cut a word of it.

Campaspe said...

If he sent it to online outlets for publication, and not directly to you as a private communication, then I think it's ethical to publish it here, along with your response. It was never intended to be a "just between us" thing, it seems. And, unlike the NYRB, he has an almost instantaneous means of responding here in your comments section. Ain't the Interwebs grand?

Of course I am arguing from self-interest, since I am eaten alive with curiosity. But given Flickhead's communications with Bright Lights, I still think it's ethical to publish the piece.

Marilyn said...

I know the temptation to spank this writer in public is enormous (and like the Siren, I'm curious), but isn't the blogosphere nasty enough without adding to it? I'd respond directly to the writer, who is the offender, after all, regardless of whether the email was meant for publication in Bright Lights or anywhere else.

I had someone rant in my comments section. I allowed the first rant, but when it was followed up by personal attacks on me, I drew the line, it having nothing to do with the film in question and adding nothing to the discussion but public bile. I later learned that the commenter was the agent for the director whose film I panned. Follow the money...

Vanwall said...

Only publish it if you are fully prepared to continue picking up the doo-doo and posting it here for examination, as I would hate to miss any installments of what I'm sure will be a series of thrusts, parries, and repostes - don't wait for polite foot movements, either, keep the arm extended for a remise.