Reader S.K. adds yet another comment on my cynical take on Million Dollar Baby, whose message of romanticized nihilism hasn’t gone over big with audiences but sure did resonate with the Hollywood elite (see “Million Dollar” Flop, Feb. 28):

“I’m afraid I have to take exception to your post on ‘Million Dollar Baby.’ I haven’t seen it either, but do plan to once it is available on Netflix. I don’t have to have seen it, though, to point out that it is not exactly a flop.

“As of Feb. 27. ‘Million Dollar Baby’ has grossed $81.6 million worldwide. Since its production budget was $30 million, and it isn’t likely that the marketing budget would exceed the production budget for this particular film, I think it’s safe to assume that MDB is in the black; and therefore, not what most people would consider to be a flop. It’s also important to note that MDB’s Oscar successes could give it a box-office boost, and when it goes to DVD, ot will finally be available to people in areas like mine where the multiplexes only show five screens of Are We There Yet? and another five of Hitch….

“Flop or not, I hope you are not implying that only blockbuster pictures deserve to win, since the intent (key word!) of the Oscars is to award films based on artistic merit (of which theme is most certainly not the only criterion), not on popularity. While this doesn’t always happen, I’d rather have some great films be ignored than sit through an evening of acceptance speeches by the likes of Tara Reid and Vin Diesel. Oh, and one minor additional quibble: The Aviator took the most awards overall, not “Million Dollar Baby” (though MDB did take most of the big ones).”

S.K., you may be right about the total Oscar harvests for “Aviator” versus MDB–I was reading off a headline that obviously counted only the big ones. And my characterization of “Baby” as a “flop” in my headline was a stretch, I admit (artistic license!). In the body of my post, I described “Baby” as doing “only so-so” at the box office, which seems to me an accurate assessment of how it’s fared. Yes, it’s garnered $81 million in worldwide gross receipts ($64 million in the domestic market), but it’s been out since December! And also been nudged along by its Academy nominations, without which I don’t think it would have been playing in a single U.S. theater by Oscar week. I’m certain that “Baby” will realize a profit (what with DVD sales and foreign distribution, nearly all Hollywood movies do) but it’s never gonna be a blockbuster.

And please understand that I don’t think Academy Awards should go only to monster teen-pleasers. Case in point: Sideways, a genuinely fine (and nuanced and intelligent and adult) film that hasn’t done huge at the box office but got my vote for Best Picture. What I’m arguing is that Hollywood loved “Baby” for its euthanasia-promoting message. Many critics have pointed out the heavy-handed, deck-stacking plotting: the girl’s abandonment by every single member of her family (c’mon!), the germ-trap fleabag hospital where she was relegated, even though with her boxing winnings she could have received the finest of medical care, the fact that the Catholic priest in the film (and religious guidance itself) are made to look ridiculous, the liberties taken even with the ethical issues (it’s perfectly legal, and, most would argue, perfectly moral for a patient to ask to switch off a ventilator if it’s burdensome) and so forth. But that didn’t matter to the Academy types. What if the heroine had decided Christopher Reeve-style to buck up? What if “Baby” had a hopeful ending? We would have heard a lot of muttering about “Rocky VII” but nothing about Academy Awards.
Now for another e-mail (from “Bookworm”) about Susan Estrich’s rampage against Los Angeles Times opinion editor Michael Kinsley for running my article “Feminist Fatale” arguing that women intellectuals have marginalized themselves by becoming shrill feminist ideologues. Last week we got an e-mail from 17-year-old M.E. complaining that she was “both disgusted and appalled” by my “sick attempt to attack great women of our time,” i.e. Susan Estrich (see the Mailbag for Feb. 25.)

Bookworm comments:  

“I am inexorably reminded of a T-shirt I saw about four years ago on a 14-year-old girl, It read, ‘Boys have feelings too … Who cares?’ This bizarre dichotomy–males bad; females perfect–that is inculcated in our girls at an early age seeds Estrich’s supporters. I wish Mrs. (Laura) Bush much luck in her campaign to assist boys. Given today’s cultural climate, they need all the help they can get.”

So true–I don’t understand what hating the male sex has to do with advancing the cause of the female sex.

Now for a comment from reader “Cassie” on an article by Bucknell University student Alison Kasic for the IWF’s Campus Corner. Bucknell, like hundreds of campuses across the country, has turned romantic Valentine’s Day into distinctly un-romantic V-Day focusing on rape, not love and featuring Eve Ensler’s four-letter screech-fest The Vagina Monologues instead of hearts and Cupids. Ms. Kasic protests: 

“[Y]ou’ve got to be a little suspicious as to why V-Day would pick Valentine’s Day (which traditionally focuses on the positive aspects of relations between men and women) for their ‘holiday’ to promote awareness of the bad things that happen in a small minority of relationships. It’s as if they want to cast a shadow of doubt on all men –‘Watch out on your date tonight, ladies; that gentleman you love is just a ticking time bomb of male violence!’ Kinda kills the romantic atmosphere, doesn’t it? So pick a different day, for goodness sakes. There is no reason for campus feminists to ruin a perfectly good holiday (with chocolate!) for the rest of us.

“We’ve allowed the campus feminists to turn a romantic holiday into a man-hating rally where people shout vulgar sexual terms in the name of art.”
Cassie e-mails to the contrary:

“I am a survivor of rape, and I find V-day’s efforts to be productive and helpful to all of us who have been targets of violence. As a woman, you would think she would be proud of an organizations efforts to end rape. As someone I know put it, ‘When did feminism come to mean loving chocolate more than our basic rights to self-determination and safety?’ This girl should have her research before wasting our time with such ignorance.

“Had she gone to, maybe she would have been able to understand the reasoning behind the borrowing of what appears to have become such a ‘sacred’ holiday. I was especially offended by the line, ‘you’ve got to be a little suspicious as to why V-Day would pick Valentine’s Day…for their “holiday” to promote awareness of the bad things that happen in a small minority of relationships.’ Small minority indeed… She obviously is not up on her statistics. I’m very disappointed and offended, especially when this opinion comes from a writer for an ‘Independent Women’s’ forum.”

Look, Cassie, I agree that rape is horrible, and I sympathize fully with whatever happened to you. Years ago someone broke into my house and tried to rape me; even though he didn’t succeed, I’m still traumatized in some ways by that terrifying episode that left purple marks on my neck for weeks from where he had me by the throat.

But rape isn’t the rule in man-woman relationships, and if you’d like rape to be even less frequent than it is, screaming four-letter words on Valentine’s Day and drawing chalk vaginas on the campus sidewalk isn’t the most effective strategy. The Valentine’s Day rituals of candy, cards, and candle-lit dinners encourage the sexes to think romantically and idealistically about each other–that is, to treat each other with respect. A guy who gives his sweetheart a box of chocolates isn’t likely to force himself on her afterwards. So I can understand Ms. Kasic’s irritation at the hijacking of Valentine’s Day by radical feminists using the occasion as yet another excuse to vent their hostility toward men. I feel the same way myself.