Thursday, 7 March 2013

Fashionable Entertainment

Fran Lebowitz In Conversation
Friday February 08, 2013
Massey Hall
Toronto, Ontario

Review by Rory A.A. Hinton

Front Row With Fran

When Fran Lebowitz goes on tour the drill is always the same: she gets interviewed by a local celebrity, then she fields questions from the audience in an "entertaining fashion." However, the question and answer segment is neither balanced nor fair. She is adamant that the questions should not be fashionable in the way her answers are designed to be. Sadly, if the Q&A at Massey Hall was any indication, Fran gets "entertained" alot on tour.
     The interview segment functions as a platform for the brand of wit for which Fran is famous. Take the following example from an interview between her and Toni Morrison, nicely captured in Martin Scorsese's 2010 Lebowitz documentary Public Speaking:

Toni Morrison: "You seem to me almost always right."
Fran Lebowitz: "What do you mean 'seem'?"
Toni Morrison: "But also never fair."
Fran Lebowitz: "I am always right because I am never fair."

     Fran's prerequisite for correctness is based on the fact that one can at times get a bit too carried away with democracy, at least concerning art and its relation to culture. On this Fran is a fashionable fascist: democracy for society, but not for culture. So much the worse for democracy. Her message here is not about fairness, but about the cultural necessity of a natural aristocracy of artistic talent. Fran has it. Others do not. That is life. Who said it is fair? Not everyone can write Metropolitan Life.
     Knowing this, I asked her the following question near the end of the Q&A session (doing my best to be as fashionless as possible): "Is art what you can get away with?" She answered: "I don't believe that it is." This answer gave me serious pause. She had just finished explaining to a previous questioner why she did not believe in magic by stating: "I don't believe in anything that I have to believe in. Think about it." After she talked about the art market, the importance of aristocratic taste, and how Oprah has dumbed down our standards of excellence, she looked at me with a sly smile and said: "So, to sum up ... yes." 
     I had to think about that, too. Fran does not waste words. She does not believe that art is what you can get away with because she knows it is. That is why she continues to get away with creating it. She obviously learned her Factory lessons when she wrote reviews for Interview Magazine back in the 1970s. 

Fran Lebowitz. Metropolitan Life. E P Dutton, March 1978.
Martin Scorsese. Public Speaking. HBO Documentary Films, 2010.