My knock at MaryJane Butters, the politically correct faux-farmgirl in Idaho whose biggest cash crop to date is the $1.3 million book advance she received from a Random House subsidiary to promote her organic instant-food mixes, has drawn letters from Inky readers who know something about real farms (see MaryJane Butters Farms for Dollars, Oct. 11). They were fascinated by the fact that MaryJane charges $2,950 a week to city slickers who want to come down to her farm to learn how to weed the garden, use the outhouse, and eat BakeOvers, MaryJane’s trademarked name for her organic skillet casseroles. Here’s real farmgirl K.C.:
“I grew up on a working cattle ranch in Montana, and my mother would have laughed at this delicate little flower of the prairie. I grew up doing everything the hired hands did and then some, and I can’t imagine anyone I knew then taking this woman seriously.”
And here’s L.M.:
“I had to shake my head when I read about MaryJane and the wannabe farmers. My mother grew up in Wyoming without utilities and has said she wouldn’t go through it again for anything.
“And $3,000 to learn how to pull weeds and put up a fence? You can join a local garden society and learn that for 1/100th of the price. Or for about $2, you can get a bottle of liquid dish soap. Soapy water kills aphids and softens the ground for pulling weeds and getting a posthole digger in the ground. And the BakeOver sounds a lot like the Impossible Pie recipes in the October Cheapskate Monthly. For about $10 of ingredients, you can make 30 cups of the ‘master mix’ that makes the impossible pies work.
“I’ll put some excerpts from Mary Jane’s website in my newsletter, Western Rose Quarterly. The readers will get a kick out of it!”
As an off-and-on gardener myself, I like your tip on the aphids, L.M. And don’t forget good old Bisquick, my mother’s standby when I was growing up. The Bisquick website features a gazillion recipes for skillet casseroles that are a darned sight cheaper and look as least as tasty as anything on MaryJane’s site. Sure, Bisquick isn’t organic, but your Birkenstock friends will never know unless you tell them.
Now for my post on Elfriede Jelinek, the dour Austrian ultra-feminist who just won the Nobel prize for her novels about women who take knives and razor blades to their students, their genitalia, and themselves (see Elfriede Jelinek, Nobel Prize Bizarro, Oct. 8). I admitted that I’ve never read anything by Elfriede Jelinek–and frankly, I don’t want to. (I’m not alone in these sentiments, as she’s almost unknown outside of Austria and loathed by many inside Austria.) I had to rely on a summary of a movie made from her best-known novel, “The Piano Teacher,” about a gal who does all of the above weapon tricks and also spies on people having sex and tries to get her boyfriend to beat her up. (It’s supposed to be an avant-garde commentary on patriarchy, capitalism, empty modern life, and–you get the idea.) A reader e-mailed (see the Mailbag for Oct. 11) to comment unfavorably on Elfriede’s looks as well as her writing (click to this New York Times photo), but I countered that with a little fixing-up, she wouldn’t look half-bad.
Nonetheless, another reader, “TracerBullet,” maintains that I was unfair to Elfriede:
“It is very sad that you review an artist whose work you don’t know, except by secondary or tertiary sources. It borders on the funny, that you assess her writing by reading a review on a film that was made based on one of her books.
“Admittedly, having read one of her books (“Lust”), she is a very difficult and demanding read and I didn’t enjoy the book. Since her language is of a certain very personal style the translation to English might have lost something, but in Austria her work is seen as an example of what can be done with language–probably comparable only to Bernhard and Kafka.
“What you wrote about her not being liked in Austria is definitely true. Austria’s most-read paper (“Die Krone”) lead several campaigns against artists that were seen by its journalists a as disgrace to the country. Those attacks on her and other artists were well coordinated with the FPO (party of Jorg Haider). She has been very active showing the falsehoods in social structure, feminism being only one (though a very central) point of it, and has thus been naturally an opponent of the FPO, which has a very ancient view of the role of women in society. But her criticism goes much deeper….
“The movie…made out of her book ’The Piano Teacher’ is disturbing, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good. That it was nominated and won at a lot of the major European film festivals (best actor, best actress and grand prize of the jury in Cannes) should tell you something about the quality. Of course it shocked a lot of people that it contained a lot of sex….. Even if no sane person would “enjoy” the movie, it is definitely a film worth watching.”
Call me an old Krone, but you don’t have to back Jorg Haider to subscribe to Horace’s maxim that art should delight as well as teach, as well as Aristotle’s dictum that well-crafted rhetoric should appeal to the emotions of the audience. You admit yourself, TracerBullet, that you didn’t “enjoy” the one novel by Jelinek that you’ve read, and that few people managed to “enjoy” a film (which flopped) made from another of her novels, even if they do show “the falsehoods in the social structure.” So what makes her a great artist? Her “difficult and demanding style”? And I don’t put much stock in the Cannes jury. They’re the same folks who voted that “Farenheit 9/11” is a great documentary.
Reader H.E. has a different view, however:
“According to the NY Times article, Ms. Jelinek is already married (imagine that!), so I don’t think she needs your advice on how to spruce herself up for the opposite sex. Although those of us who encounter her picture would greatly appreciate it if she were to heed your words.”
Now, I hold that getting married is no excuse for neglecting your looks. But I get your point, H.E.: Elfriede needs to get out more.
Now for a critical e-mail from S.S.:
“When I heard about your organization, I thought: How wonderful it is to have more and more women standing up for women’s rights in leadership, diversity, job equity, home, family, and leisure time.
“However, after reading several articles on your website, I have learned that there are some really wacked-out people writing for the IWF. It seems your articles are written by people who are way out of touch with the reality of the struggle for equality in all phases of our lives and are at complete odds with our foremothers who fought for the right to vote. What a disappointment your organization is to me.”
Well, gee, I’m not as wacked-out as Elfriede Jelinek! Believe it or not, S.S., we at the IWF do believe in women’s right to vote, as well as equal opportunity for women in all phases of economic and public life. And we very much support the decision of many women to put home and family ahead of career-advancement. We don’t, however, believe as the feminist establishment does that women are helpless victims who need financial and regulatory support from the government in order to lead their lives.
After reading S.S.’s e-mail, this e-mail from J.P. made us feel better:
‘Ladies, after reading the unfortunate amount of hate mail you’ve been receiving–I just wanted to send you a quick note to let you all know how much I look forward to reading you daily and am so glad that there’s some strong, independent, intelligent non-liberal women’s voices out there.”