Man Without Qualities

Monday, October 20, 2003

Legacy Envy

Who would have thought that traveling to Chicago for a wedding could cause one to forget that Woody Allen is President of the United States. But, of course, Woody Allen must be President of the United States, because Maureen Dowd is savaging his sex life and his effort to market same in the form of a $10 Million yet-to-be-written-maybe-never-to-be-written autobiography.

Few would dispute that Woody Allen has run relatively dry as a humorist and film maker, or that his his personal life is irregular, sad and not to the tastes of many, or that his reported $10 Million asking price for a hump-and-tell memoir is over the top. But none of that explains why today Big Mo is in a Big Huff about now-little, insignificant Woody, his sex life and his asking price.

Ms. Dowd was not a fan of Bill Clinton, either, but she left the impression that she was only writing about Mr. Clinton's sexapades because he was, after all the President, and he was using the power of the Presidency to make feminists into risible hypocrites, weakening his office for all time and so on and so forth and la-di-do-DAH. Mr. Clinton's greatest crime? Damaging the sacred American language!

Mr. Clinton's greatest sin is not sex or dissembling about sex, as the heavy-breathing Kenneth Starr believes. His greatest sin is swindling and perverting the American language. He is like the cursed girl in the fairy tale: Every time he opens his mouth, a toad jumps out.

Whatever one can say about Mr. Allen, he has definitely enriched - and not perverted - the "American language." One might even say about Mr. Allen that at least in his earlier efforts, and his New Yorker occasional pieces: Every time he opened his mouth, a hilarious and telling pearl fell out. Indeed, Big Mo's ultimate sentence in this column is one of Mr. Allen's own - one of his many wonderful quips.

Big Mo says she adores the old, funny Woody of Bananas but even at the height of her Pulitzer/Lewinsky run she took time off to tell us how much she detests the newer, weaselly, overcivilized, undermoralized, terminally psychoanalyzed terminator Woody. And her venom continues to run in his direction. But why? The current shenanigans of a washed up comedian now without influence in any sphere are hardly the stuff of a New York Times column.

Like the subject of her ire, Big Mo is widely considered to be washed up after a career whose high point came in the form of her Pulitzer-winning Clinton/Lewinsky/Starr columns aptly describable as political satire and screwball comedy all in one.

Yes, those columns might be aptly described as political satire and screwball comedy all in one. - but they weren't. Those words have instead been used to describe one of Mr. Allen's films, a film which is number 69 on the American Film Institute's list of America's 100 Funniest Movies:

Bananas holds a special place in many people's hearts. Released in 1971, the film was only the second film Woody Allen ever directed (following on the heels of Take the Money and Run) but it remains one of the funniest films of that entire decade. A political satire and screwball comedy all in one...

The old, pre-washed-up Maureen Dowd is a species of competitor of the old pre-washed up Woody Allen. But nobody has ever, nor will anybody ever, write something like the review quoted above about anything Ms. Dowd has ever created or ever will create.

Could it be that it's not the new, insignificant, weaselly, overcivilized, undermoralized, terminally psychoanalyzed terminator Woody that upsets Big Mo so much that she keeps returning to him in her columns.

Could we be seeing signs of legacy envy between two who now dwell in the land of the washed-up?

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