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Fatwah / June 28, 2012

Am I missing something? Did Nora Ephron do something great once in her seventy-odd years that I never heard about? She cure cancer and I was never told? She make an uncharacteristically watchable movie and hide it in a vault for posterity and we’re just discovering it now?

After seeing encomiums all over the place practically calling for Ephron’s canonization, I checked IMDB and saw only the usual dreadful facts of her life. Like how she became professionally annoying after husband Carl Bernstein cheated on her, by writing a self-pitying memoir-novel featuring gratuitous recipes that became a rotten Meryl Streep movie called Heartburn, and how she utterly ruined American romantic comedy forever and ever and ever and ever with When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle.

(I know, you can’t believe American romantic comedies were ever good, right? But they were. Ernst Lubitsch did a beautiful one in 1940 called The Shop Around the Corner, for instance, that writer-director Ephron deliberately mucked up and rendered horrible and titled You’ve Got Mail in a dreary attempt at technological topicality. She also co-starred mugging Meg Ryan and shucks-folks Tom Hanks in it. Ephron helped make them the Cute Co-Stars From Hell in the 1990s. You’d think such heinous acts would prevent post-death encomiums. But no.)

To hear people tell it, Ephron was wonderful. So brilliant, so funny, so amazingly able to think thoughts and be female at the same time. They tended to be really tiresome thoughts, those pseudo-bracing ones your detestable horse-faced aunt might throw out on a day when she feels particularly self-congratulatory. Letting you know she understands how to live life fully, and you don’t. Ephron was like an Auntie Mame for the bland provincial set, simultaneously pushy and forgettable, saying things that take the form of witty remarks but aren’t actually witty, or interesting, or anything.

Here’s an example of a Nora Ephron quotable quote (you can google reams of them):

Insane people are always sure that they are fine. It is only the sane people who are willing to admit that they are crazy.

You see what I mean? That kind of blah reaction you get, followed by exasperation when you realize tons of people think that’s really fresh and insightful? That’s the Nora Ephron Effect. When Harry Met Sally and her other ghastly works are chock-full of that junk.

And then there’s her drooling advice to women that’s really insufferable.

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”

“The desire to get married is a basic and primal instinct in women. It’s followed by another basic and primal instinct: the desire to be single again.”

“Summer bachelors, like summer breezes, are never as cool as they pretend to be.”

All of this stuff’s got mold on it, it sounds like Dear Abby trying to get hep, but women in the entertainment business have trotted out reverent eulogies anyway. Mindy Kaling of The Office said this:

Nora Ephron has been the single most influential person to me as an artist.

Didn’t know Mindy Kaling was an artist, did you? Yeah, turns out everybody is now, unless you specify otherwise. You have to check “NOT AN ARTIST” on the form.

But the capper is Lena Dunham’s tribute, she of the despicable HBO show Girls. Nora Ephron is Dunham’s personal heroine, turns out, and no wonder. They share a vaguely similar combo of traits: privileged, wired-in background, creepy faux-feminism, mean banality, and allergy to anything that resembles the observable truth:

Her advice was unparalleled. At one of our lunches this past January, I was sheepishly describing a male companion’s lack of support for my professional endeavors. She nodded in a very “don’t be stupid” way, as if I already knew what I had to do: “You can’t possibly meet someone right now. When I met Nick, I was already totally notorious”—note: Nora was the only person who could make that word sound neither braggy nor sinister—“and he understood exactly what he was getting into. You can’t meet someone until you’ve become what you’re becoming.” Panicked, I asked, “How long will that take?”

Nora considered a moment. “Give it six months.”

I loved her propensity for asking a question when she already knew the correct answer but wanted to let you make a tiny fool of yourself. The best example of this was when we were discussing a popular book and she earnestly asked, “Did you think that was a good book?” I said, “Well, yes,” before Nora came back, sharply, with “It wasn’t.” I later told this story onstage with her, and she laughed as though she knew it was one of her most awesome tricks.

That last bit is the best evidence of Nora Ephron’s “awesome” wit and wisdom: a crabby old woman tells a dopey young woman a book she likes is crap, and offers no explanation, and that proves the crabby old woman’s a genius.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

 

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84 Comments

Add your own

  • 1. Citizen Bernstein  |  July 2nd, 2012 at 9:09 am

    Nora? Or was it Norah? I knew her once, in a biblical kind of way, I think. She was a little big mail room gal in big city, working her way up, unzipping the zippers of power; and I was a little big man, or at least played by the same shylock. Over and over again I see her on Diane Sawyer, New York magazine, the New York Times, HBO’s Girls, tatooed on Lena Dunham’s frumpy ass – EVERYWHERE! I’m trying hard to remember her, Nora, my Norah, my No Mora. When again will America laugh? Can there be laughter allowed after this woman’s death?

  • 2. Cerberus79  |  July 2nd, 2012 at 11:07 am

    Dear Eileen:
    Is my uselessly retarded comment really necessary or am it just in the wrong?

  • 3. gc  |  July 2nd, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    complaining about Nora Ephron exposes that person as someone who is still knee-deep in the mediocre-white-upper-middle-class-”mainstream” culture. I mean, who gives a fuck?

    Everybody who isn’t too knee-deep in mediocre-white-upper-middle-class-“underground” culture to have any idea what’s going on in the rest of the world.

  • 4. DarthFurious  |  July 2nd, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    HA! I got the last word in! And I did it with my amazing cungina!

    By the way, did you know that the comment spellchecker doesn’t recognize your made-up word? Or maybe it’s because I’m a virtual troll under a digital bridge. Who knew?

    Cungina, kids. It’s what’s for dinner.

  • 5. Ehh  |  July 2nd, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    Thank you, Eileen Jones, for saying what I was thinking. When the big East Coast media loses one of its well-heeled darlings, we all have to hear too much about it.

  • 6. Ehh  |  July 2nd, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    Look at that nappy coat! Shiny and smooth are for the poors.

  • 7. Mike C.  |  July 2nd, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    @50

    The trouble with what you’re saying is that you’re saying it at all. If Jones is attacking low hanging fruit, you’re waiting to pounce on whatever falls.

    But I don’t buy your premise anyhow, so I’ll leave that metaphor abortive.

    One of the things that sets Jones’ reviews apart is that she hasn’t taken sanctuary with the incoherent identity-politics-or-bust postmodernists, tweedy middlebrows, or the glassy-eyed fan boys/girls on the glorified press release sites, whose reviews sound like overwrought book reports. She treats the “important” stuff and the pig feed with about the same reverence–and to the same indignant bewilderment at the extremes of popularity and mediocrity that generally run in parallel.

    If western culture has a role in the societal sewer pipe Exiled fishes its camera through, then combing through the remains of Ephron’s career is exhuming patient zero. Her films showed Hollywood a new shorthand for creating garbage, so I could stand a few paragraphs about it. Shit, I suffered through the posted eulogies everywhere just the same, going through the stages of, “Who the fuck is that?” to disbelief, and finally acceptance in seeing her memory deflated via this article.

    There’s no end of things to read, so I’m sure you can sate whatever high brow-ish-ness is aching you without telling an existing writer to take a turn on your behalf.

  • 8. Punjabi From Karachi  |  July 2nd, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    @Notorious P.A.T

    Danke!

  • 9. gc  |  July 2nd, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    @57

    Beautiful.

  • 10. Cerberus79  |  July 2nd, 2012 at 6:45 pm

    Dear Eileen:

    My “”retarded” comment can’t hold a candle to someone who obviously thinks shitting on a dead body represents the height of literate criticism. How fortunate for you Ephron is in no condition to answer back. BEST THING A TROLL’S SAID SO FAR. BRAVO!

  • 11. jack  |  July 2nd, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    Nora Ephron is to feminism what Hillary Clinton is to feminism- nothing. Privledged upper middle class women pretending that their struggle is humanity’s struggle.
    I, a fifty year old male, read “Crazy Salad” as a teen , it was just the whining of a self centered person, of course I am self centered but I wouldn’t expect anyone else to find it profound or funny.
    And that crazy/sane quote is standard boiler plate for the “opposite is true” trifle that plagues mankind. ‘The only thing worse than… is the opposite”

  • 12. jack  |  July 2nd, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    that said, crappy movies are easy to watch

  • 13. Sylocat  |  July 2nd, 2012 at 10:35 pm

    One of the things that sets Jones’ reviews apart is that she hasn’t taken sanctuary with the incoherent identity-politics-or-bust postmodernists, tweedy middlebrows, or the glassy-eyed fan boys/girls on the glorified press release sites, whose reviews sound like overwrought book reports.

    I love how the acolytes of every “Edgy™” internet critic claims that their favorite critic is totally different from all those other critics that can be ticked off into neat little checkboxes.

    Whether the objects of the scorn be, as you put it, “identity-politics-or-bust postmodernists” or “tweedy middlebrows” (what does that even mean?) or “glassy-eyed fan boys/girls” (here defined as, “Anyone who likes something the Edgy™ critic doesn’t like”), it’s all about taking pride in how different you like to think of yourself as. It’s Hot Topic all over again, it’s people expressing nonconformity by all acting exactly alike. Yeah, because you are the only person in the world who says what you think and doesn’t let anyone else influence your opinion. Riiiiiiiiiiiiiight.

    Yeah, unlike me, who leaves dumbass comments in order to advertise linkspam to my cool youtube channel. Thank you AEC for correcting my ways, and replacing the link with a mantra for me to repeat.

  • 14. Mike C.  |  July 3rd, 2012 at 3:21 am

    @63

    I love how for every comment, there’s someone waiting to abstract it into a new category of thing, where said kind-of-thing has been debunked offscreen someplace not named.

    Evidently, Jones is an edgy (tee-em) critic, and I’m here to insist she’s unique — your complaint implying that she’s not, with further proofs of Jones’ commonplace category of thing again appearing offscreen.

    And if we’re not privy to said edgy-type critic, and uniqueness-insisting fanboy dynamic, I guess we’re just not cool enough for that clique.

    Sorry, fuck-face, but bare incredulity, where the refutation is simply suggested by your level of insolence, hasn’t cut the mustard since the creepiness of American Apparel outpaced its ubiquity.

    I don’t particularly feel like explaining the categories I named, but unlike you I could actually do it if I had to.

  • 15. Courson  |  July 3rd, 2012 at 4:44 am

    Now that the maggots are eating her half-rotted viscera, I’ll bet the pretentious Nora Ephron isn’t nearly so goddam smug anymore.

    Now that her lousy “I’ve Got Mail” prestige has vanished, we can immediately discern the underlying reality of who Nora Ephron really is/was: namely, an enormous maggot, bragging and talking drivel of one kind or another.

    Hey Nora (borrowing a line from that hired killer in Blood Simple) you look stupid now!!

  • 16. Ozinator  |  July 3rd, 2012 at 10:28 am

    @60

    about Capote’s death, Gore Vidal described it as “a good career move”

  • 17. noen  |  July 3rd, 2012 at 11:14 am

    Bitterness and cynicism means I R intelligent!

    Despising pop culture is the mark of the true intellectual!

    My entire life is marked by failure but at least I can bring others down with me!

  • 18. Sylocat  |  July 3rd, 2012 at 11:43 am

    @64

    You’re the one who shoehorns everyone who disagrees with you into easily-mockable little subcategories while (as you put it) leaving the “proof” offscreen, and yet I’m the one claiming that others aren’t cool enough for my clique?

    Trust me, Eileen Jones is a grownup and doesn’t require your rabid defense, whether the almighty AEC invites you to dogpile on me (because apparently my donation got lost in the mail) or not. And yeah, I realize I did misspeak (mistype?) in #34, since I wasn’t even responding to Jones directly. I accidentally conflated her opinion with those of her “glassy-eyed fan boys/girls” (as you put it), because those fan boys/girls insist on projecting their own pet opinions onto her.

    Even in some alternate universe where I did like Nora Ephron, Jones would still be entitled to her opinion and I wouldn’t be particularly interested in changing it. The rally-round commenters, however, are identical to those enjoyed by Ben Croshaw, Jeffrey Wells, Armond White, Rex Reed, the list goes on.

    Oh, and since I’m only supposed to use the URL box for its intended purpose if I agree (thanks for clearing that up, AEC), I’ve placed an article more relevant to the current discussion in it.

  • 19. Lena Dunham  |  July 3rd, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    She’s dead? Dead? OMFG! She’s dead!!!! O God no! Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!
    Jesus H. Fucking Christ! I just lent that greasy old twat a book she said was good and now I’ll never see it again! WTF am I supposed to do??????

  • 20. texas 'doc' watson  |  July 3rd, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    @64

    well said.

  • 21. gc  |  July 3rd, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    @68

    Even in some alternate universe where I did like Nora Ephron, Jones would still be entitled to her opinion and I wouldn’t be particularly interested in changing it. The rally-round commenters, however, are identical to those enjoyed by Ben Croshaw, Jeffrey Wells, Armond White, Rex Reed, the list goes on.

    “People defend Rex Reed! That means if people are telling me I’m an idiot and Eileen isn’t, it must be something wrong with them!”

  • 22. Cerberus79  |  July 3rd, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    After all, I thank my lucky stars (and lucky charms) that there is an Almighty Exiled Censor to protect me from myself, for I am my own worst enemy

  • 23. Cerberus79  |  July 4th, 2012 at 6:25 am

    “After all, I thank my lucky stars (and lucky charms) that there is an Almighty Exiled Censor to protect me from myself, for I am my own worst enemy”

    Not as long as you’re around, my unnamed snotty jackass. Hiding behind a poster’s name while deleting his post is not really that clever. You may think you’re another Addison
    DeWitt butcha ain’t, Blanche, ya ain’t.

  • 24. anon  |  July 4th, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    Thank you Eileen. More articles like this please. Ames and Levine are putting too much time into the SHAME project, Dolan has vanished from the face of the earth and it’s up to you to hold the fort.
    A (small, I’m a pauper) donation will be made to the eXiled next time there is a Jones or Dolan article.

  • 25. Barf  |  July 4th, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    Looks like I hit a sore spot with all the people in denial that movies suck these days.

    Of course there have always been shitty movies, but the bar for good movies has taken a massive nose dive in the past decade. So many more movies are ruled by marketing committees and test audiences now in order to make it a “safe” product rather than give artists free reign. That’s a stone cold fact.

    CGI still looks like a video game. There’s not more “grit” to movies anymore, everything takes place on an obvious green screen stage with the same glossy digitally color corrected look in every damn flick. The best practical special effects of the 80s and 90s still look more realistic than what is churned out today. That is also not debatable.

    If movies are just as good today, then where are the classics? Close to 30 years later, people still adore “entertainment” films like Alien, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Back to the Future, Ghosbusters, and Jaws. Who is going to give a shit about Prometheus, The Mummy, Hot Tub Time Machine, Sahara, or Gladiator 30 years from now?

    Name one modern horror movie that is anywhere close to Alien or The Exorcist. One modern adventure movie close to Raiders of the Lost Ark. I’d love to hear it.

    Kids adventure movies in the 80s got The Goonies, today they get Dwyane Johnson Disney flicks.

    What action stars do we have to replace Arnold? Colin Farrel, Adrien Brody, and Jared Leto? Where is the next Bill Murray, a man of such staggering genius that he made the otherwise terrible Lost in Translation watchable? The best Hollywood can do is Seth fucking Rogen and Seth MacFarlane.

    Do you have any examples to prove I’m just a nostalgic old fogey? You’re the one who busted out “sheeple”, the burden’s on you now.

  • 26. Cerberus79  |  July 5th, 2012 at 6:51 am

    I see Andy Griffith died. What an opportunity for Eileen!

  • 27. Ehh  |  July 5th, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    trebot: I always confused Nora Ephron with Wendy Wasserstein. When Nora died, I thought: Didn’t we bury her five years ago?

    Wendy Wasserstein was Jewish, with frizzy hair, so she was more of the “exotic” or “ethnic” type of well-connected New York woman writer who might appear on Charlie Rose to tell us about life.

  • 28. Margo Adler  |  July 7th, 2012 at 3:29 am

    I enjoyed reading this comment thread tremendously.

    The Exiled has the best commentariat (sp?) on the internet.

  • 29. Mitchell  |  July 9th, 2012 at 12:44 am

    Video from planet Nephron! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0DTdKEzbIg

  • 30. John Galt  |  July 13th, 2012 at 8:15 am

    Out of noble self-interest, I must inform the common street scum that read this blog that my Creator, Ayn Rand, wrote funnier screenplays than this Ms. Bernstein.

  • 31. garycooper  |  July 16th, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    I downloaded “I Feel Bad About My Neck” and “I Remember Nothing” from demonoid after hearing about her death, just to see if her memoir-writing was any better than her execrable movie-writing. It’s not. I think I got maybe one rueful grin from both books. Seriously, she’s a boring-ass writer. And clearly an unpleasant person, it’s no wonder men ran away from her to sunnier climes.

  • 32. John Galt  |  July 19th, 2012 at 9:57 am

    However, garycooper, you and I always have to watch out for turgid stud Nathan Branden.

  • 33. Paul Perkins  |  July 19th, 2012 at 9:13 pm

    Nora Ephron is dead.

    I guess nobody will have what she’s having.

  • 34. Taryn  |  December 3rd, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    Thank you thank you – I came to this late – but I was so happy to see that I was not the only one who thought this way.

    Her films were nauseating, she did become a personal pain to Woodward (someone I do have enormous respect for) and if anything she set female representations of women in media back years.

    ps – Lena Dunham sucks. Kudos 2 to you on that one xx


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