“There’s the most enormous, fat black chick I’ve ever seen. She is enormous. Everyone’s pretending she’s a part of show business, [but] she’s never going to be in another movie. She should have gotten the Best Actress award because she’s never going to have another shot. What movie is she gonna be in?”
That was degenerate DJ Howard Stern speaking about the actress Gabourey Sidibe, the mountain of human flesh that stars in the film “Precious,” a flick pushed by Oprah Winfrey and applauded by all.
Stern’s shtick runs the gamut from ribald to revolting. He has a go at everyone, starting with himself; his manhood in particular. No one escapes Stern’s parodying. Not even the Big “O”: “Oprah’s another liar, a filthy liar,” Stern sounded-off some more. “She’s telling an enormous woman the size of a planet that she’s going to have a career.”
Oprah, who selects the nation’s presidential and reading material, is not wrong; Stern is. His claims about the future of Sidibe (yes, she’s American-born) are of a piece with the assertions made repeatedly in that “Shangri-La of Socratic disinterest,” the Bill O’Reilly show, so dubbed by Canadian writer Rex Murphy. The deliciously apt turn of phrase, I imagine, alludes to the absence of the Socratic Method on “The Factor.”
Whenever Mr. O’Reilly interviews a successful rapper hip-hop artiste – in that signature, self-referential, intellectually incurious style he has cultivated – the host will invariably admonish the multi-millionaire for failing as a role model to America’s youth. O’Reilly’s interlocutor has made a fortune even though he can barely speak English. For a living, the hip-hopster hoots and gestures obscenely like a primate. Yet O’Reilly will insist that it is wrong to send a message to the youth that if you grab your crotch and talk and dress ghetto, you’ll get ahead.
O’Reilly’s wrong. The message is a perfectly good one. The proof is in front of him.
This is the age of the idiot – but it is also the age of the halt, the lame, the plain dysfunctional, the retrograde, the exhibitionist, and above all, the black person, in all shapes and sizes, with or without scruples. Sidibe will do just fine, embraced as she will be by a constellation of flesh-creeping types in Hollywood and beyond.
What is so grotesque about “Precious” is not the actress – who seems pleasant enough – so much as the film: the fiction, the yarn it spins and the emotions it calculatingly elicits. “Precious” is intended to tug at every single sentimental fiber in a person’s being.
Mired in the misery of Harlem, the ugliest, fattest, most abused and tormented young girl is kicked about some more after spending earlier formative years as the ugliest, fattest, most abused and tormented child in the world, born to the cruelest most craven parents ever, who – although they don’t sacrifice her in a ritual murder – make up for this show of restraint by beating, impregnating and infecting their daughter with HIV.
Aided by a lesser pedagogue than the one in “To Sir With Love” – a sympathetic, dedicated teacher – this poor caricature finds in herself a reservoir of strength to prevail and even soar. She makes everyone involved in unleashing her spirit see the light. They are lucky to bask in her inner radiance.
The subtext of “To Sir With Love,” however, was conservative. Remember Sidney Poitier in the role of Mr. Thackeray, the teacher who transformed the lives of his tough, East-End students? The film presumed that there was an ideal way to be in the world. The underclass was to aspire to upper-class conduct. Class – expressed not by race or riches, but by one’s speech and attire, in the way one dressed and addressed others – was seen as vital to individual success and societal stability.
“Precious,” on the other hand, is a gratuitous orgy of pornography, pathology and sentimentality. It is extreme fiction aimed at exaggerated emotion.
If Stern were a wise shock jock, he’d have zeroed in on the sick, sapping sentimentality in which this film revels. Such sentimentality is like hysteria; it is the opposite of reason; it distorts reality and, if anything, causes those who succumb to it to misplace compassion.