Dan Savage: Under-equipped? (Unverified.)


[*] Rumor has it, of course! — ed.


“Juno” as Science Fiction

(or, an open letter to Julia Wertz)
March 30, 2008

It’s funny how when you hear a lot of people register the same complaint about a movie (or any other artwork) you absolutely revere, it’s easy to dismiss them (remarks and people both) as being glib and not paying full attention to whatever it is that’s touched a chord in your heart so, for reasons anywhere on the spectrum from “they must be idiots” to the more-concessionary “they must have other concerns, and not had the time, inclination, or proper occasion to parse this thoroughly enough” – even if your own personal bias may inwardly tend you more towards the former than the latter.

But in the case of the recent Academy-Award-winning (Best Original Screenplay) film Juno, penned by the irrepressible Diablo Cody, and the oft-mouthed (at least I’ve heard it plenty) contention that “teenagers don’t talk like that” (referring especially, I presume, to the title character most of all): once I heard the brutally-honest (speaking now of her attitude as much as – if not more so – towards herself, than towards others) Brooklynite comic-book artist Julia Wertz cite the same complaint, I realized this may, in fact, be a bona-fide problem people (other than . . . well, myself, just to be as broad and fair as possible) may have with parsing this particular film.

Probably the most exhaustive way I have of addressing this perceived fault with the film is also the simplest: by saying, maybe not quite yet, but if enough teenagers see the film, it will open up new potentialities for them, and it will therefore become more true that “everyday” teenagers will, as a matter of course, starting quoting movies and other pop culture references they truly do feel an affinity for not as a means of distancing themselves from others and their own real-life problems via some sort of background-static invocation, but as a means of staking out their own identity – despite whatever the current societal consensus, conscious or implicit, may dictate – and become more confident and strong-willed in their decision-making as a result.

It’s hard to think of citing any other reference to attest to potentiality of this to, in fact, happen, than the only one which would prove the point to utter indisputability (at least, in terms of potential effect): that being, the one novel, published in that by-now undeniably-resonant year of 1984 which, as a direct result of its necessarily being published at all (and no other), has shaped and expanded the potentiality of all human expression and communication on the planet as we know it – and birthed a commensurate new global economy, besides.

I am here speaking, of course, of William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer, in which the sentence-definition “Cyberspace[: a] consensual hallucination experienced by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation” first appeared in the history of mankind. And as Jack Womack plausibly-to-the-point-of-well-nigh-indisputably argues in his afterword to the 2000 edition of the novel, as much as Gibson himself might have maintained (often) in interviews in the years following its initial publication that he never conceived as cyberspace as anything more than a “metaphor,” as Womack puts it: “No matter. Once a creation goes out into the world, its creator, like any parent, loses the control once so easily exertable over the offspring; another variety of emergent behavior, you could say.”

Point being, just as this “foreshadowing and estimation of our present” was “lifted into actuality through the agency of its readers,” so could it be with Juno, in terms of – if nothing else can be claimed exhaustively at this point – the possibilities of how teenagers (necessarily stumbling through that oft-painful period of life where they neither have the reliable comfort of the their parent’s home as identity shelter not any fully-fleshed-out adult life to retreat to as of yet) could, perhaps, feel they have more of a right to their own perspectives (myopic as they may seem at times, even to themselves), and to learn from their own mistakes.

Having never had this as clearly and fully as I would have liked during my own teenage years (and those of you who can safely say you did, please feel free to write me, care of this publication; I am always on the lookout for more passing-the-time idle amusements), my best hope at the mid-thirties I now find myself in is that adolescents at least nowadays, and hopefully going forward, won’t waste quite as much time – and quite as gratuitously and fruitlessly – as I did.

And that’s all we can really hope for, at this point in the modern-day American culture, isn’t it? Something other than easily-observable total wastes of time that those of us maybe not so equipped to spot right away can nonetheless start taking for granted they can at least sidestep altogether, and maybe – I don’t know, start a band? go on a date? write a letter to the editor? . . . instead?

Well, Julia, that’s all I got. Maybe you should give Juno a second look, if you think the concerns I’ve raised here have any validity whatsoever. From my point of view, I can agree with you specifically with regards to the scene where Juno first meets the then-potential parents of her then-potential baby: she seems a little too secure and confident in her wise-assery right then and there, considering she is in what I would guess is an heretofore completely unknown and thus potentially-intimidating environment for the first time, and while it may be true that in this scene, she’s resorting to a sort of hyper-flippancy to compensate for her inner nervousness, it didn’t to me feel like the scene was played that way.

But, I could be wrong. I guess the whole point, Julia, is that whether you’re skewing plausibility in terms of a potential present-cum-future as Gisbon did in Neuromancer, or in terms of species sentience as Thomas Pynchon does in his recent Against the Day (2006) with his book-reading dog Pugnax, or, as I’m arguing here, it can be interpreted Cody’s doing here in terms of teenage awareness and clear-headed decisiveness, the point is not (it seems to me) whether or not what we’re encountering is what you might call “exhaustively plausible” but – if I may coin a term, here – “irrelevantly plausible.”

As in, the plausibility level is so thorough in so many regards – or, at least thorough enough that one doesn’t feel like one is being bullshitted out of nothing more than the narrative caprice of the author – that it necessarily leads us (again, to quote the Pynchon book, here from the book jacket, apparently penned by Pynchon himself) to places “not strictly speaking on the map at all.”

And, to quote Pynchon yet again from the same source (sorry to be redundant, but what else is there to say, other than this?): “If it is not the world, it is what the world might be with a minor adjustment or two.”

That’s it. That’s all I got (really, this time).

Respectfully yours,

Christopher Joseph Snyder

Portland, OR

P.S. Just go ahead and tell me you’ve never seen the high school track running team (or the like) run by and not “picture them naked, even if [you] don’t want to. All [you] see [are] pork swords.”

You know it, Julia! You can’t help it (who could? Unfortunately . . . )! It’s but inevitable! Human truth!

P.P.S. I’ll still be your friend and read your stuff faithfully, even if you didn’t give Juno a second chance, RIGHT AWAY. Somehow – I promise – we’ll find a way to live with our differences.

Though, I may grumble, from time to time. That’s all I can promise at this point.

Have nice day!

CHRISTOPHER JOSEPH SNYDER is a freelance writer currently living in Portland, OR. JULIA WERTZ is a comic book artist currently residing and working in Brooklyn. JUNO is the name of a Roman Goddess, the matriarch of Heathcliff’s brood of bull mastiffs in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, and the title character in a recent film scribed by an ex-stripper. Maybe you’ve heard of it?


Q:  Why did you study Thucydides, Marx, Trotsky, Engels, The Federalist Papers, Durkheim, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Freud, the writings of formative child-psychologist D.W. Winnicott, two trimesters of Shakespeare with the editor of the Bantam series, Edmund Spencer’s The Faerie Queen, Buñuel/Dali’s Un Chien Andalou, Michael Snow’s 40-min. “zoom” film Wavelength, Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes, Althusser‘s “On Ideology” essay, Walter Benjamin‘s writings on Photography, Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie (w/o subtitles), Ionesco’s The Rhinoceros, Beloved, War and Peace, the Dada art movement, Moby-Dick, Ambrose Bierce’s short fiction, Flannery O’Connor’s short fiction, Langston Hughes’s short fiction, a law-school class in “The First Amendment” with Dennis Hutchinson, Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography, The Yellow Wallpaper, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, Michel Foucault’s formulation of the Panopticon, etc., etc., at the Univ. of Chicago, when you could have gone to Cornell, where Milton Friedman taught, and become a “Free Market” acolyte, by osmosis?

A:  That doesn’t make any sense.  Firstly, Milton Friedman didn’t teach at Cornell (and grad school professors have little, if any, interaction with college students).  Secondly, “osmosis”?  Thirdly, even mentioning Friedman’s name without referencing Adam Smith’s preposterous “Invisible Hand” conceit [which posits that, completely despite the conscious intentions of the individuals laboring in “free markets” — or not —  an “Invisible Hand” will, inevitably, guide & shape their behavior(s) so that they benefit the “greater good” of society-as-a-whole, anyway] is ridiculous; there’d be no such school(s) of “laissez-faire” theorizing without Smith’s utterly-inane and pseudo-religious “posit” of the market-as-benevolent-deity, to begin with!  (In fact, during the four (4) years I spent at the “U of C,” Smith’s writings were the only 100% STUPID thing that I came across!)

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