03.03.10

Thumbs Down To Will Leitch’s Normally Proportioned (Fucking) Face

Posted in Blogged Down, Cinema, non-sporting journalism, Will Leitch Sucks at 1:27 pm by

Ailing film critic Roger Ebert (shown above, right, with Russ Myer) appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” yesterday, an occasion that inspired only slightly more emotion than the publication of Will Leitch’s “My Roger Ebert Story” at Deadspin. Our Man From Mattoon, as it turns out, was mentored by Ebert during the former’s tenure at the Daily Illini. Later, after arriving in New York and being encouraged to cultivate, uh, his snarky side, Leitch composed a hatchet job for Ironminds entitled “I Am Sick Of Roger Ebert’s Fat Face”. Though Leitch openly regrets the ill-advised piece (and Ebert has graciously forgiven him), the timing of the Deadspin entry is more than a little opportunistic. It’s entirely noble to call attention to Ebert’s work or to his habit of assisting young writers. It’s the height of narcissism, however, to flip the switch from Ebert’s writing or his courageous struggle with cancer to yet another clumsy bit of Leitch’s introspection.

The New York Times’ David Carr, not nearly as sickened as I, wrote, “who among us hasn’t fired the rocket, experiencing the atavistic glee of aiming something horrible at what we thought was some big, lumbering gasbag, and then come to realize that whatever the shortcomings of our target, we have just proved we are far more despicable?” That’s a fair enough question to ask, but not all of us would fire said missile at a target who’d gone out of his way to be a pal. And not all of us would use the occasion of said target’s major TV appearance to call attention to ourselves. And if you’re still wondering what would possibly provoke Leitch to have lashed out at a man he clearly considered to be something of a hero (watch your back, Rick Ankiel!), here’s his explanation.

The Web was beginning to emerge, and we young turks, swept in during the dot-com boom, all thought we were punk rock gods, ready to kill our idols. Ebert began to feel like the old guard: In the wake of Siskel’s death, he had become a ubiquitous presence on television, at the expense of his writing, I felt. In 2000, when I’d moved to New York and, like everybody else, was being paid far too much just to be told I was part of the next “MTV Generation” of Internet stars, I thought I knew everything. You had to burn down the past. These were the days of We Live in Public, of Pets.com, of bringing your dog in the office, of Webvan, of espnet.sportszone.com. We all thought we were hot shit.

I’m not sure Leitch realizes the absurdity of the claim “we all thought we were punk rock gods, ready to kill our idols.” You can rest assured Sonic Youth didn’t actually consider Robert Christgau to be an idol, nor were they in his debt in 1983. But it’s a revealing paragraph just the same, and one that rings just as hollow as Alex Rodriguez’ talk of a loosey-goosey clubhouse climate. Leitch puts his rotten behavior into the context of the internet boom (nice work not citing Suck.com, Will) but maybe the real gist of it is something much more simple. I’ve called him “ethically challenged” in this space previously, but never before had the benefit of this intensely unpleasant social climber serving up the evidence himself on a silver platter.

8 Responses to “Thumbs Down To Will Leitch’s Normally Proportioned (Fucking) Face”

  1. jason cohen says:

    I dunno. The navelgazing is goofy, the rationalizing lame, and the coverage overall starting to feel too much like premature eulogy, but I wouldn’t call the timing opportunistic – the subject is simply newsworthy. The Esquire thing made a huge, huge splash, led directly to the Oprah booking and, concurrently, Ebert has started tweeting that much more and has now launched a subscription web site. And given it was published on Deadspin rather than “New York” or somewhere else, it wouldn’t seem he did it for the money (though perhaps money would have been a better reason to do it than soothing his tortured soul).

  2. Turd Ferguson says:

    The bigger news isn’t that Ol’ Emo Bangs made a really interesting, emotional story less about the real actor than about himself/his ego, but that my favorite tag on CSTB has returned to active duty.

  3. GC says:

    Ebert is the newsworthy subject, Jason, and quite deservedly so. The travails of the schoolboy journalist and his shitty treatment of persons he thought he no longer had any use for, not nearly as much. Will is on salary with New York and isn’t held accountable for their circulation, and while there’s certainly no huge payday in a single post to Deadspin, this is less about $$$ and all about turning a public mea culpa into reputation-enhancing gravy. I’d hazard a guess the Deadspin post and subsequent links/retwitters garnered a much larger audience than Leitch would’ve found via New York’s website.

    The only good part was learning the obsequious-to-yr-face / snarkfest behind it thing is hardly a new M.O. for Will.

  4. Lisa says:

    I completely agree, and I’m so glad to see that not everybody in the blogging world is going ga-ga over this opportunistic nonsense.

    Most journalists – especially those of Ebert’s stature – are not exactly giving of their time, especially to obnoxious young people like Leitch. And how did the Man From Mattoon portray such extraordinary kindness? By being a jerk. Nice!

    Sorry, it’s not sock puppet from Pets.com’s fault. (And what a weird segueway that was, anyway – what in the world did dot.com failures have to do with treating Roger Ebert like garbage, anyway?)

    Ebert’s been seriously ill for the last eight years. An honorable person would have made amends a long, long time ago, and not just now, to tie in with Oprah. Kudos for not letting this clown get away with this.

  5. David Roth says:

    I can’t speak to WL’s motivations on this, but I’ve been kind of startled to see just how positively the piece itself has been received. It’s not terribly distinguished in any way except Leitch’s openness — which is maybe admirable in a sense — about being such a dickhole to this guy who was so kind and nurturing to him. Because Leitch doesn’t go into detail about what he was specifically rejecting about Ebert — beyond the fact that he was famous and old and on TV — or why, the whole thing is kind of opaque; the decision looks that much more unpleasant because he never really bothers to examine his nasty behavior beyond saying “I was young and stupid.” That particular abdication kind of cuts the heart out of the piece for me. Embarrassment and shame are two different things, and he seems kind of stuck on the former because he won’t really delve into the latter. How something that so steadfastly refuses self-examination or responsibility can also come off so self-regarding I don’t know.

    And of course the writing itself isn’t anything special. (“Ebert’s writing is gentle, calm and infectious.” Oh word?) The topic is the topic, but the fact that the piece has been so rapturously received — by people i respect, including Carr and the people at The Awl — is just kind of weird to me; this sort of facile confessional isn’t hard to find on the internet, obviously, and the presence of a couple of boldface names as characters doesn’t really seem to nudge it into the realm of interesting. As usual with Leitch’s stuff, I’m wondering where the insight is, and mystified about what people found moving about it except Leitch’s weepiness over his never-satisfactorily-explained Falstaffing of the universally beloved Ebert. For all the chest-thumping, I just don’t sense anything real — or anything to feel much about — in the piece.

  6. Ben Schwartz says:

    Davd: Ebert’s not universally beloved — not by me, anyway. I agree that Leitch is making an opportunistic apology, one he’s using to separate himself from his blogger/web roots and position himself as more of a Real Journalist Who Has Grown Up. Maybe his entertaining but empty Costas hit piece didn’t go over the way he hoped. Leitch is hardly Matt Taibbi. I look foward to his Costas apology someday, too, when it looks good for him to make it.

    However, I never liked Ebert or Siskel. The plus side of Ebert (!) is that he truly loves cinema on its own terms, where I don’t think Siskel truly did. Ebert’s movie reviews are 3/4 plot summary and the rest pure opinion (“what a performance!”). His current tweets are the best things he has ever written, and I kid not. Pithy, smart, funny — where has this guy been since he won that Pulitzer? His embrace of B culture mattered in the 1970s, but his recent Scorsese book is mainly rehashes of old reviews and not particulalry groudbreaking, even for the time. It may look daring now to have liked Scorsese then (it wasn’t) but back then mainstream film was daring. He’s no Kael or Farber or Truffaut on film, or even an Agee. He’s never presented any new way of looking at film as they did for mainstream readers. On his blog he writes about rereading Willa Cather and other authors, with great insight, but why has he kept that knowledge out of his movie writing all these years? I’ve always thought he dumbed everything down, from his thumbs up “way UP!” reviews with Siskel to his incredibly thin intellectual insights about movies and pop culture. He’s had his moments, but he’s always been a lovable middle-brow celebrity movie critic, which is perhaps what he always wanted.

    I’m sorry to see him in the shape he’s in, but I love the bold way he’s taking back every day of his life from the disease. It’s inspirational, and I don’t say that often about anyone. I hope when I go its with as much class and that one day Will Leitch deems me worthy of a hit piece.

  7. CMG says:

    Siskel did love movies. He was not quite as open about it as Ebert who while I love Ebert he still plays favorites with certain directors and never quite can come around on others (though Kael was the same way). My only beef with Siskel was he never liked horror films.

    The Leitch piece was well-written but I am sorry, I had no idea Roger Ebert died. It came off as a eulogy. What the hell? Ebert’s story is not about dying, it is about living.

  8. David R. says:

    God bless CSTB for validating my own qualms about WL’s “timely” essay. The beers are on me (usually because I’m all thumbs).

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