We have all been warned about the dangers of anonymous rants on the internet, so I will not spend a lot of time discussing the history of my dislike for Adam Gopnik. If you would like further details, email me at this address, and I will be happy to oblige.
I always believed this dislike to be a personal prejudice, perhaps arising from envy over his years in France, his range of knowledge, his status as man of letters. I have changed my mind.
In the most recent New Yorker, Adam Gopnik has an essay about abridged versions of books and the extras in DVDs, and what these things have to teach us about the nature of art. I didn't get it.
(I would also like to state for the record that having a special issue of the New Yorker about "the arts" strikes me as idiotic, and that I noticed a distinct anti-Trilling slant in their article about Jacques Barzun.)
But the course of saying what he has to say brings him to the movie Hollywoodland, which is one of those movies about Old Hollywood which I didn't want to see because it looked dull.
This is what Adam Gopnik has to say about it: "The tale of how the guy who played Superman on a cheap, forgotten TV series shot himself lacks the grip of tragedy, even pop tragedy, which demands, after all, that the hero once counted. (Joe Orton's life can be made ugly and tragic because the scale of his gift implies both conditions; but George Reeve's death is merely sad and a little sordid.)"
I've been thinking about writing about it for a while, and during that time I wondered if my initial outrage was excessive and then I typed in that quote. I am now perfectly satisfied with my initial outrage.
Adam Gopnik thinks that the unhappy extinction of human life can only become ugly and tragic if the life extinguished possessed the gifts to make it so. George Reeve (Superman!) doesn't make the grade; I don't know about the rest of us.
Now, a more charitable interpretation is that Adam Gopnik just doesn't feel like the movie in question made us believe in the importance of George Reeve. This would be wrong.
"The enormous care lavished on material that would never be worthy of the effort is more moving than the film."
I don't think of myself as given to moral outrage. I do believe that all of our lives contain at least some material worthy of enormous care, rising to the level of ugly and tragic. Or at least that there's no dividing line between the more gifted and the less so, making their sorrows are ugly and tragic, and ours are sad and a little sordid.
Human life is not well-designed for human beings. The tragedy of that is free-ranging and always tragedy. Except, of course, when it's comedy, which is an entirely different matter.