Monday, August 27, 2007

Tilting at Windmills



It must be weird to be Damian Arlyn right now.

Since so much has been written in the past week about what Mr. Arlyn has come to represent, it might be helpful to begin by talking about who he is (thank you, Google). Damian Arlyn is a 31-year-old resident of Corvallis, Oregon. The manager of DVD World by day, Mr. Arlyn also participates in theatrical productions at the Corvallis Community Theatre (you can read about the recent Arlyn-directed production of Dracula here). Damian is also a born-again Christian who explains on his MySpace page that he decided not to include Jesus on his list of heroes because "the term 'hero' doesn't even begin to describe the place he holds in my life" (as his list of heroes includes both Martin Luther and Denzel Washington, I'd have to agree with his decision). It seems clear that Damian is a sincere, serious-minded man with a genuine love for cinema.

Damian, as many of you know, also has a blog. And last week, in the middle of his ambitious, entertaining "31 Days of Spielberg" project, he became the subject of some very serious accusations. Damian addressed those charges in his blog, and you can read what he had to say for himself here. I believe Damian is genuinely sorry for his mistake, but as of this writing, it seemed that he didn't really understand what people were so angry about. Damian never expected to be famous, and now, he explains, "I never anticipated this project would bring me into contact with actual published authors who have written on Spielberg, even if it's not under the best of circumstances." I understand how Damian feels, and not just because I, too, take a lot of crap for defending Spielberg. I never expected my writing here to be read by anyone other than a few friends, and I'm grateful for my readers and the ideas you share here. In return, I feel a responsibility to give you reading material that is passionate, well-written (to the best of my abilities), and, of course, accurate. And while I like Damian and his writing, I'm troubled by this:

"However, I am not doing--nor have I ever done--this for praise, for esteem, for glory, for fame and certainly not for money. One thing I have never lost sight of is that in the big scheme of things, I am a nobody. I am a thirty-one-year-old video store clerk who lives in Corvallis, Oregon. I make little more than minumim wage a year and I happen to love movies. I never intended for this blog to be anything more than an expression of one little guy's passion and affection for cinema. Thus, I began this 'Spielberg' project because I admire Spielberg and his films and I wanted to share that admiration with other people and maybe--just maybe--even spark a little bit of discussion on him because I personally don't think that enough can ever be said about this great artist."

To use his own term, Damian is the little guy. You can find the little guy across the blogosphere, in colleges, and in any formal or informal film discussion. The little guy uses his relative insignificance to paint himself in favorable terms. The little guy might apologize for having tastes that are way more offbeat or obscure than yours. Or, as in this case, the little guy is just one more incarnation of the little boy who hangs out in the projection booth in Cinema Paradiso. The little guy is a silent apostle of the cinema, unknowlingly engaging in his own form of self-mythologizing behavior. And the moment Damian allows himself to become the little guy, however genuine his intentions may be, he loses all sense of personal accountability.

That said, I'm quite sure that Damian feels a bit differently about it this week. Because Damian is no longer just a thirty-one-year-old video store clerk from Corvalis; he's a living symbol for the divide between print and internet film writing and the question of how journalistic standards differ or remain the same between different mediums. And just as Damian's self-image tells us much about his actions, the same is true of his most rabid detractors, many of whom showed up before scandal broke to anonymously inform Damian that he is a terrible writer. Most telling of all, to me, is the public sermon on Mr. Arlyn performed by D.K. Holm, who dismisses Damian's writing as "pretty much like every other blog in the world" and connects his downfall to something larger:

There is another kind, that is more pervasive and insidious and nearly invisible. That’s the group-think that sweeps across the nation as certain reviews and reviewers set the tone and limit the terms of response to a film."

The irony is that D.K. Holm is Damian Arlyn's spiritual father, having made a living from the summary/trivia format he claims to abhor (the difference being that Holm is paid for his efforts). Damian Arlyn does not realize that he loves himself; D.K. Holm cannot admit that he hates himself. Arlyn's colleagues at The House Next Door have done a better job of more clearly stating their intentions, offering a brief explanation of why Arlyn was removed from their masthead and, like the jurors stepping away from the table in 12 Angry Men, expressing in relative silence what so many supporters and detractors in so many words have not quite been able to communicate.

So, yes, I do wonder what today was like for Damian Arlyn. To have found such massive support (the blogosphere's generosity being its finest quality) only, with one unfortunate error in judgement, to find himself at the center of a debate that is no longer about him. To have inadvertenly tapped such a deep well of buried resentment from elitists and populists alike. To stand behind the counter as angry customers demand their two dollars back because Pan's Labyrinth was in Spanish (and oh, those black bars!). Damian's silence is our loss, and when he's ready, I anxiously await his return. Because, after all, the world needs a passionate defense of The Terminal.

11 comments:

Allen L. said...

can you show the link where Damian's father castigated him? this is a weird and devastating intrigue. I can't rightly say that I am siding with Damina, though, but this shows just how weird and wild the internet is.....

Steve said...

I'm guessing that the "father" thing was metaphorical, no?

Allen L. said...

why would that be a metaphor? In what way? I don;t get the joke. DK Holm exists. Damian exists. Am I missing something?

Paul C. said...

I think he means that DK isn't really Damian's dad, but sort of a spiritual father to the younger writer. Or not. Being part of the Screengrab team with DK, I don't think he's imaginary, but you never know- maybe he's like a paternal version of Tyler Durden to Damian.

Bemis said...

A metaphor indeed. Sorry if it was a bit too in-jokey - I made the misktake of assuming that anyone reading here was already familiar with the story.

Allen L. said...

Wow, no Bemis, gotta watch that, then. I relayed the story to some friends with the hook that Holm was his father. Looking back, I still don't get the joke.

Bemis said...

Well, consider the rest of the sentence.

Bemis said...

Paul, I've modified that part of the article using your clarification - thanks for the help. It seemed funnier to me the other way, but I guess it's more vague than dry.

Paul C. said...

Yeah, irony can be hard to put across when you aren't able to express it through a tone of voice.

Also, that post title is sort of unavoidable, innit? I mean, I had the exact same idea when I wrote my run-down of the whole fiasco.

Oh well- now I'm off to finish my TIFF schedule. YESSSSSSSSS!!!

Milena said...

Oh my! I didn't know anything about this. Thanks for the links.

Bemis said...

Oh no! I write an article about plagiarism and inadvertently steal your title - how bitterly ironic. Apologies, as I read your piece but completely forgot you'd used that title. Yeah, I guess it is sort of unavoidable.