Kyle Smith, GoodFellas, Bullshit – Oh, My!

Posted: June 12, 2015 in Critical Hit
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In this modern world of dogwhistle invective and coded slurs, wherein racist, sexist, homophobic ideology is frequently couched in ‘polite’ or ‘neutral’ terms, the better to distance its exponents from the bigoted reality of their actual opinions, it’s sometimes perversely refreshing when some properly oblivious specimen forgets the unspoken rule about code-switching into their Outside Politics Voice and lets us know what they really think, unfiltered. It’s like watching a slime-eyed troglodyte heave itself, gasping and wheezing, into the modern sunlight, an ugly-funny anachronism. You feel like you imagine David Attenborough does, whenever he has chance to narrate the cyclical reappearance of some particularly rare, hideous insect, but without the concern for its future preservation. Ah, you think to yourself, with almost fond revulsion, and here we see the Asshaticus Whatthefuckius, emerging slowly from its own distended rectum. Note the pungent aroma of gender essentialism and failure.

I am, of course, referring to Kyle Smith’s article in the New York Post about why women are incapable of understanding GoodFellas.

It’s such an astonishing trainwreck, I feel like I should be eating popcorn. “Yes,” says Smith, “Men like sports. Men watch the action movies and eat of the beef and enjoy to look at the bosoms.” Oh, wait, I’m sorry – that’s actually a quote from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, wherein teen everyman Xander Harris mocks Anya, a former vengeance demon who specialised in punishing unfaithful men, for her woefully stereotypical concept of masculinity. The fact that Smith’s article more or less embodies this sentiment but without the irony is why I’m actively repressing an outburst of violent laughter even now. Internets, I shit thee not: there are tears in my goddamn eyes.

For reals, though: let’s take a moment to see why Smith thinks ladytypes can’t possibly appreciate his precious dudeflick:

““GoodFellas”… takes place in a world guys dream about.Way down deep in the reptile brain, Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), Jimmy the Gent (Robert De Niro) and Tommy (Joe Pesci) are exactly what guys want to be: lazy but powerful, deadly but funny, tough, unsentimental and devoted above all to their brothers — a small group of guys who will always have your back. Women sense that they are irrelevant to this fantasy, and it bothers them.”

And in that moment, I swear a musclebound, dudebro angel wrapped in a beerstained fratboy toga descended beatifically from the heavens, gently set a calloused finger to Kyle Smith’s lips and lovingly whispered, “No homo.”

(Speaking of which, does anyone else find it odd when Manly Men proudly attribute their Manliest Male Impulses to their “reptile brain”, as though citing the least intelligent, least human, most distant part of their evolutionary history as an overriding impulse should somehow engender sympathy rather than alarm? Never mind the fact that actual reptiles are among Mother Nature’s finest genderbenders; it’s like someone saying, Yes, I know I’m a talented stockbroker, but my great-great-grandfather was a sheepfucking drunk, so deep down, there’s a part of me that just wants to shotgun a bottle of Tia Maria and really let wild at the petting zoo, you know? It’s biology, officer!)

And then it gets better:

“The wiseguys never have to work (the three friends never exert themselves except occasionally to do something fun, like steal a tractor-trailer truck), which frees them up to spend the days and nights doing what guys love above all else: sitting around with the gang, busting each other’s balls.

Ball-busting means cheerfully insulting one another, preferably in the presence of lots of drinks and cigars and card games. (The “GoodFellas” guys are always at the card table, just as the Rat Pack were, while the “Entourage” guys love video games.) Women (except silent floozies) cannot be present for ball-busting because women are the sensitivity police: They get offended, protest that someone’s not being fair, refuse to laugh at vicious put-downs. In the male fantasy, all of this is unforgivable — too serious, too boring. Deal another hand, pour another drink.”

I’m always amazed by the brazen failure of empathy that allows anyone to sit down and make declarative statements about the secret preferences of an entire gender via the simple expedient of assuming their own fantasies to be universal ones. I mean, look: let’s be real. Language is a tricky thing, and as such, it’s sometimes necessary, or at least useful, to speak in general terms about groups or concepts rather than having to qualify with extraneous wordage, over and over again, that you’re only talking about X thing or Y problem, when the actual context and topic of conversation has already made that clear. But this isn’t what Smith is doing: instead, he’s conflating his personal feelings with a platonic ideal of masculinity in a way that’s hilarious at best and downright worrying at worst.

Like, okay: I’m aware that I’m a female-presenting person without any Floozy Credentials and am therefore, in Smith’s book, The Goddamn Sensitivity Police and a wilful traitor to fun, but I’m pretty sure that, if I showed his article to every man I know, 99% of them would either burst out laughing or roll their eyes hard enough to necessitate immediate corrective surgery. But then again, I know a lot of guys who, like, actually respect women? And enjoy their company? And dislike vicious putdowns on principle? I mean, I derive great ironic satisfaction hate to ruin a perfectly good film review by pointing out that toxic masculinity actually does real damage to countless guys by telling them that Real Men are emotionless, misogynist dickbags who hurt their friends for fun and deal with their problems through stoic alcoholism and domestic abuse, but, yeah: that’s totally a thing, and it’s kind of hard to laugh at Smith’s suggestion that it’s a good thing when, quite patently, it’s not.

Plus and also, and speaking out of pure literary concern for Smith’s apparent status as a professional writer, there should be a limit on the number of times you can use the phrase “ball-busting” and its attendant variations in a 900 word article; and whatever that limit, I submit that eleven times – which is to say, at least once every hundred words – is a tad excessive. There’s an almost fetishistic quality to Smith’s obsession with balls and the busting or breaking thereof that GoodFellas apparently personifies, and while I’m not one to kinkshame – if a healthy, red-blooded American man enjoys a little CBT, then more power to him; whatever, as the kids say, creams your Twinkie – Smith’s actual point, assuming he had one beyond Manly Men Are Manly And Awesome And Women Are Shrewish Harridans, might have been better served by the occasional use of a non-testicular synonym for funning.

I mean, look. At the end of the day, Kyle Smith can have as big a hard-on as he wants for GoodFellas – can be as disdainful for the touchy-feely incomprehension of ladies and their dreary femotions as he wants – but that doesn’t mean I’m not gonna bust his balls for promoting his toxic, sexist concept of what Real Men are as if it’s an obvious universal ideal, which: huh. Now, there’s a conundrum for you: if I’m crushing his cojones (see! the thesaurus is your friend) for having such an ass-backwards view of masculinity, does that make me Lorraine Brasco or a member of the sensitivity police?

It’s a paradox, your honour: bullshit all the way down.

Comments
  1. Elspeth Grey says:

    And here I thought people appreciated GoodFellas for the camerawork.

    That’s certainly what my father got out of it, and what he taught me.

  2. lkeke35 says:

    I think Martin Scocese’s point in making Goodfellas, was as an example of what NOT to be, as a man. I got the movie. I understood it perfectly and nowhere in that movie, wherein the men were lazy, but were occasionally moved enough to commit arson, thievery and murder and domestic abuse, did I see anything worth admiration, for them or the lives they chose.

    That HE chose to admire the utter wastes of human life in that movie, all of whom came to bad ends through the choices they made, is not a failing on MY part.

  3. This is a fairly familiar piece of writing:
    Guy writes piece Explaining Men.
    By amazing coincidence, all men are just like him, like the same things he likes, have the same attitude toward women. Therefore writer is not merely expressing personal preferences but speaks Truth About Men.
    And they frequently include a reference to how Women Just Don’t Get It.
    Not that this is an excuse for Smith, because yes, that piece was crap.

  4. Lurkertype says:

    No, Kyle, women sense they are irrelevant to this fantasy and it amuses them and makes them roll their eyes.

    The dudebro angel vision made me laugh. Brava.

    Once every 82 words, I figure it? Kyle really has a thing about balls. Other men’s. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as his anti-PC compadre Seinfeld famously said.

    Goodfellas is ironic, right there in the title. Even my tiny girl brain can perceive that. It is a masterpiece of filmmaking (particularly the camera work), with some terrific performances, but in no way are the characters presented as admirable people.

    But I guess lizard brains are too stupid to understand things like plot.

    • Lurkertype says:

      Oh, and point of order: it would be “Asshaticus whatthefuckius”. The second part, the species name is not capitalized.

      Sadly, this species is not endangered. It’s really too common for Attenborough to deign to observe it.

  5. Lurkertype says:

    Reblogged this on Lurkertype's Blog and commented:
    Wait till you get to the part about the angel.

  6. […] a movie or book doesn’t mean you want to live like that. Try telling that to Kyle Smith, who insists men love Goodfellas because the characters live the perfect male fantasy. And that women hate it […]

  7. Vivi says:

    I’m laughing out loud at the quote about “viscious put-downs” as well, because… well, skip the cigars and change the drinks to something appropriately frou-frou, and suddenly he’s describing a shade-throwing contest among drag queens.

  8. Lissa says:

    “Speaking of which, does anyone else find it odd when Manly Men proudly attribute their Manliest Male Impulses to their “reptile brain”, as though citing the least intelligent, least human, most distant part of their evolutionary history as an overriding impulse should somehow engender sympathy rather than alarm?”

    That’s the same thought I have when men compare themselves to wild animals to justify their behavior. I don’t know how they’re not insulted by comparing men to dogs (ex. a woman wearing short skirts is like throwing meat to dogs). Like, I hope you’re more evolved and in control of yourself than an animal that eats shit.

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