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Storytelling

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Storytelling (2001) is the most politically incorrect movie I have ever seen. Indeed, it is so un-PC that it could never have been made today.

Director Todd Solondz is a really sick guy. His films Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness, Palindromes, and Life During Wartime can justly be accused of fixating on bullying, rape, pedophilia, abortion, suicide, and murder. I find them utterly distasteful, and I cannot recommend them to anyone. But of course, these films have been hailed as courageous by critics, who delight in breaking down barriers to everything sordid and terrible in man.

But even our transgressive cultural elites have lines that cannot be crossed, which explains their comparative silence about Storytelling. For example, while Solondz’s other films are extensively summarized on Wikipedia, as of this writing, this is the full summary of Storytelling:

The film consists of two stories that are unrelated and have different actors, titled “Fiction” and “Non-Fiction.” College and high school serve as the backdrop for these two stories about dysfunction and personal turmoil.

Fiction

“Fiction,” starring Selma Blair, “Vi,” is about a group of college students in a creative writing class taught by a black professor (Robert Wisdom).

Non-Fiction

“Non-Fiction,” starring Paul Giamatti and John Goodman, is about the filming of a dysfunctional suburban New Jersey family as their teenage son (Mark Webber) goes through the college application process, and faces the trials and tribulations of late teenage years. 

Autobiography

The original version of the film featured a third story entitled “Autobiography,” concerning, among other things, a closeted football player (James van der Beek). The main character has an explicit sex scene with a male partner (Steven Rosen); the entire story was cut from the final version.

Note that the paragraph about the part of the film that was cut is actually longer than the descriptions of the stories that made it into the final cut. Why the reticence? You’ll see.

I will comment on the entire plot of “Fiction,” the shorter of the two stories, and let you explore “Non-Fiction” on your own.

“Fiction” begins with two college kids, Vi (Selma Blair) and Marcus (Leo Fitzpatrick) in flagrante. Vi climaxes as she rides Marcus, then sinks to the bed. Marcus then clumsily tries to interest Vi in hearing his short story for tomorrow’s class.

There’s really something off about this guy. It turns out that Marcus has cerebral palsy. Sensing that Vi is tiring of their relationship, he observes that she no longer sweats during sex. “The kinkiness is gone. You’ve become. . . kind,” he says ruefully. Vi is turned on by sexual degradation, like fucking a “cripple,” a “freak.” But when she starts to feel for Marcus, she is less turned on. One wonders if he has seen this before.

The next day, Marcus reads his story in class. This is the ending:

But when he saw her, it was as if he could walk like a normal person. His legs didn’t swing, his arms didn’t spaz away. He wasn’t a freak anymore, for she made him forget his affliction. No more cerebral palsy! From now on “CP” stood for “cerebral person.” He was a cerebral person.

It is truly excruciating, but since Marcus is a cripple, the students are kind. My favorite comment is: “It kind of reminded me a little of Faulkner, but East Coast and disabled.” To which other students chime in: “Or Flannery O’Connor. She had multiple sclerosis [sic; actually, she had lupus].” “And Borges. He was blind.” Then, with perfect comic timing, another adds, hopefully: “Updike had psoriasis.”

At this point, Catherine (Aleksa Palladino) — the brunette, bespectacled, hook-nosed teacher’s pet — takes over: “I found the whole thing to be a little trite. Its earnestness is, well. . . it’s a little embarrassing.” There’s a lot wrong with Marcus’ story, but calling it out for earnestness is simply a cliché of decadent postmodern ironism. The worst thing about Marcus’ story is not that he is earnest, but rather that he isn’t earnest at all. He isn’t trying hard, because he prefers to coast on the politically correct deference he receives as a cripple.

Finally, the teacher speaks. Mr. Scott is a tall, imposing black man. He is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author of books like A Sunday Lynching. He is known for being “aggressively confrontational,” and he does not disappoint:

Catherine is right. The story’s a piece of shit. You express nothing but banalities and, formally speaking, are unable to construct a single compelling sentence. You ride on a wave of clichés so worn, in fact, it actually approaches a level of grotesquerie. And your subtitle, “the rawness of truth”; is that supposed to be a joke of some sort? Or are you just being pretentious?

On the one hand, Mr. Scott’s un-PC frankness is refreshing. But in another way, his speech is actually quite PC. He goes well beyond frankness into sadism. A white professor would never behave in such a way. White people have to be sensitive, especially to cripples. But Mr. Scott is a black man in academia. Thus he enjoys a bubble of PC deference that allows him. . . certain liberties.

After class, Marcus attacks Vi for not coming to his defense. His parting words are “You just want to fuck him, like Catherine and every other white cunt on campus.” That evening, Marcus calls Vi to break up. After she hangs up, she refers to him as a “fucking cripple” and goes out to a bar, looking to “get laid.”

At the bar, Vi runs into Mr. Scott. She is hilariously awkward. He’s a total asshole. Naturally, she finds him irresistible. “You have beautiful skin,” he says, then grabs her hand. They go to his apartment.

Vi goes to the bathroom to freshen up. There she finds an envelope of photographs. The first ones she sees are of Catherine, nude and tied up. Other women follow, perhaps some of the other girls in her class. Vi is shaken. To recover her composure, she repeats “Don’t be a racist. Don’t be a racist.” Her gut is telling her to flee, but her PC programming overrides it.

This is how countless white women fall victim to black predators.

You can buy Return of the Son of Trevor Lynch’s CENSORED Guide to the Movies here

When Vi emerges from the bathroom, Mr. Scott tells her to strip, turn to the wall, and bend over. He’s not one for foreplay. He just wants to rut, doggie-style. As he enters Vi, he commands her: “Say ‘Nigger, fuck me.’” Vi is flustered. “Oh, bu . . . uh . . . I can’t say that.” Technically, she can; she’s just not supposed to. He insists, and she complies, repeating “Nigger, fuck me hard! Nigger, fuck me hard!” Clearly, they are both getting into it. Cut to Marcus’ dorm room. Vi knocks on the door. She has been weeping. They hug, and Marcus notes that she’s all sweaty.

At the next session of the class, Vi reads her latest story. This is how it ends:

So John flipped her around and slammed her against the wall. Jane braced herself: she thought about her mother. She thought about Peter. She thought about God. . . and rape. “Say, ‘Fuck me, nigger. Fuck me hard.’” John’s flesh abraded her soft skin. There would be marks. She acquiesced and said what he asked her to say, and did what he asked her to do. She had entered college with hope, with dignity, but she would graduate as a whore.

The reactions of the class are exactly what one would predict given the PC victim hierarchy. When faced with a white woman accusing a black man of sexual impropriety, there is no hesitation. Feminist sisterhood goes out the window. Her classmates, most of them white and female, condemn the story as “ugly,” “perverted,” “mean-spirited,” “a little bit racist,” “completely racist,” “totally phallocentric,” and “weirdly misogynistic.”

Note the strange alchemy by which a woman writing about a traumatic sexual experience with a black man becomes “misogynistic.” Merely complaining about female objectification and victimization is not “misogyny.” In fact, it is practically the definition of feminism. But something changes when the predator is a black man. Like all politically correct terms, “racist” and “misogynist” have basically one meaning: a bad white person. These words are deployed solely to denigrate whites and celebrate non-whites. Thus a white woman is a misogynist if she complains about being sexually objectified or raped by a non-white man. This is the mentality that has led the feminist Left to remain silent about the mass rape and sexual harassment of white women by black and brown men in Europe and North America.

Once again, Catherine is the master of PC-speak. She must be a graduate student, maybe Mr. Scott’s graduate student assistant.

It was confessional, yet dishonest. Jane pretends to be horrified by the sexuality that she in fact fetishizes. She subsumes herself to the myth of black male potency, but then doesn’t follow through. She thinks she “respects Afro-Americans,” she thinks they’re “cool,” “exotic,” what a notch he’d make in her belt, but, of course, it all comes down to mandingo cliché, and he calls her on it. In classic racist tradition, she demonizes, then runs for cover. But then, how could she behave otherwise? She’s just a spoiled suburban white girl with a Benneton rainbow complex. It’s just my opinion, and what do I know? But I think it’s a callow piece of writing.

To some extent, Catherine is right. The story is dishonest. Mr. Scott (the “John” to Vi’s “whore”) is not a rapist. Vi simply had a hot, consensual sexual encounter that made her feel dirty. But rather than own up to her ambivalent feelings, she wants to disown them by claiming to have been raped. False accusations of rape are common on college campuses because feminists encourage women to think they can withdraw consent after the fact. But Vi has discovered that white women are lower than black men in the PC victim hierarchy.

Catherine is, however, wrong to claim that Vi is the “real racist.” Mr. Scott gets off on being called a “nigger.” It isn’t something we can talk about these days, but I am sure a lot of black people do. Vi is offended by that and feels guilty for going along with it.

Mr. Scott seconds Catherine’s charge of callowness:

Callow and coy. Jane wants more, but isn’t honest enough to admit it. In the end, she returns to the safety of her crippled (translation: sexually impotent) boyfriend.

Marcus bursts out, “This is bullshit! Her story was the truth!” The class responds: “It’s unbelievable!” “It’s clichéd!” “It’s disgusting!”

“But it happened!” Vi protests.

Ever unflappable, Mr. Scott continues:

I don’t know about “what happened,” Vi, because once you start writing, it all becomes fiction. Still, it certainly is an improvement over your last story: There is now at least a beginning, a middle, and an end.

And that is the end.

Mr. Scott’s position is post-modern Leftism in a nutshell. Truth doesn’t matter. Everything is fiction. Facts don’t matter. Only narratives matter.

What structures the narratives? The rules of political correctness. Basically, everyone in the story behaves badly because of political correctness. The students don’t care about truth. They simply lie to flatter whoever they think holds the highest victim card.

Those who hold the cards exploit them to abuse people with impunity. Marcus wrote a lousy story because he thought he could skate by on pity for being a cripple, even though such pity ruined his relationship with Vi. Mr. Scott is a sadist with students both in and out of the classroom because his blackness lets him get away with it. Vi uses her emancipated woman card as a pass to pursue degrading, kinky sex. And when she feels a little too degraded, she retcons the experience into a “rape” and tries to use it as a club against Mr. Scott. But perhaps Vi does not know the rule that black men can rape white women with impunity.

This is one of the most systematic, subtle, penetrating, and brutal satires of political correctness ever made, and it takes only about 20 minutes.

The last hour or so of Storytelling is called “Non-Fiction.” It is equally brutal and brilliant, but I will let you discover it for yourself. I will, however, leave you with my proposed edit to the Wikipedia summary:

“Non-Fiction,” starring Paul Giamatti and John Goodman, is about a resentful Left-wing Jewish filmmaker whose documentary mocking an obnoxious upper-middle-class suburban Jewish family is cut short when the family is gassed to death by their Salvadoran maid.

This is Solondz’s idea of comedy, and, believe me, you’ll laugh until you feel dirty and want to accuse him of mind rape.

How does Solondz get away with it? Apparently, like the Coen brothers and Larry David, he isn’t worried about being accused of racism or anti-Semitism because he’s Jewish. Solondz, in short, uses political correctness against itself. But with satire this good, I’ll take it wherever I can find it.

Unz Review, July 25, 2020

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6 Comments

  1. Archer
    Posted July 28, 2020 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    This is what I said when this was posted at the Unz review:

    Wow, I loved storytelling, love Todd Solondz, second only to the guy who did Gummo. I like the transgressive material explored by these auteurs. It’s part of life, and so long as it’s not glorified in particular, it should be examined. I like the grit, the sense of authenticity. Welcome to the Dollhouse is his best. That’s about my induction into the IT, I presume.

    I saw it at this little indie movie house that served alcohol. It was basically a part of a guys house and he had this big ole dog that would wander in during the movie! So much has gotten worse over the years, in addition to the indie film industry.

    Is the third story of the movie on the special features of the dvd from Netflix? I didn’t even realize it existed until I read this. Have to get it again!

    I think the notion of “Storytelling” is that the first clip is untruthful, in the sense of not being true to life. A pretty girl would never be sleeping with a guy who had cerebral palsy. A black man would never be a professor at a college and screwing a white girl(from the perspective of the place in time of the film—a lot has changed since then.). In the second take, the events, while more outlandish in probability, are things you could see happening. Autobiography probably represents the past as he wished it had been, satirizing the propensity of most memoirists to bowdlerize their past. I thought that was his point.

    • John Wilkinson
      Posted July 28, 2020 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      I haven’t seen this movie but I take issue with your presumption that a black professor at a university would never be screwing a while girl, even with your caveat about the timeframe (I’m assuming 20 years ago)

      Trust me, I married my ex wife 20 years ago, and at the time she was in a social sciences post-graduate field of study at a small southern university. There were plenty of white women even then who were fetishizing black men, at least the ones with educations and positions of power, however small. Plenty of them. Too many.

      I was less racialist at the time, being that I was in my 20s, and I remember my ex wife’s best friend dating a black professor, openly. She had graduated the year before, and had been his student. (So yeah, no doubt he was banging her while she was in his class) She was attractive. That’s my one anecdote, but I’m not someone who has spent a lot of time around academics and students, so if I have such an anecdote, you can be certain that there was plenty of that sort of thing going on.

      All it takes is a young woman with severe daddy issues, the freedom of college, and her newfound liberty to do as she pleases and shove it in her parents faces, if she has a volatile family relationship.

      I’ll agree with you that it’s all the more common now than it was 20 years ago, but that is a matter of degree going from already bad to much, much worse, not “nonexistent” to “existent”.

  2. James O'Meara
    Posted July 28, 2020 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    “hook-nosed teacher’s pet” made my day.

  3. Crazy, Man, Crazy
    Posted July 28, 2020 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    I saw Happiness when it came out in a hipster theater in New York’s East Village. What I remember was not so much the movie, although I do vaguely remember unpleasant scenes. It was the loud, almost insanely loud laughter from not a few of the crowd over almost every scene, even when it was not remotely funny, like an establishing shot showing someone entering a high-rise apt. building in suburban New Jersey. It was pretty weird. This was 1997 or 8, I believe. What were they high on then? Or were they simply laughing at the notion of someone living somewhere that wasn’t Manhattan? I should have asked.

  4. Petronius
    Posted July 28, 2020 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    There is another layer to the reactions to Vi’s story, because the other female students (Catherine at least) probably had the same experience with Mr. Scott. So some hypocrisy is going on here.

  5. Some Racist Mom
    Posted July 29, 2020 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Am I the only one who felt like this review ended abruptly? I was expecting your analysis of Scooby’s angst. I must have watched it back in 2001 as a teenager and don’t remember the Non-fiction part at all… Just thought it was a piece of crap. My mom had seen it too and when we once talked about it she told me she loved it (she’s a liberal)…

    So…and the gay James Van Der Beek part? Never knew there was meant to be one.
    Also saw Happiness – absolutely degenerate.

    There’s a lot of films I’d love to unsee… Some scenes of Happiness still haunt me.

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