Spiteful Swipes and Goofball Pity | Letters | Chicago Reader

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Spiteful Swipes and Goofball Pity

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Dear Reader:

I am writing in response to Jack Clark's hilariously petty article concerning the Steinmetz High School cheating scandal ("All the Wrong Answers," May 19). The article was so rich in spiteful swipes at Steinmetz (the cheaters) and so rich in goofball pity for Whitney Young (the cheated upon) that it wound up affecting me the same way the film affected Mr. Clark. Yes indeed, "the cheaters sound like good guys and the good guys sound like goats."

Two particular arguments in this hopelessly biased article rang especially comical. Firstly, Mr. Clark was constantly quoting the sniping Mary Valentin (wife of Steve Grossman, the assistant coach of Whitney Young's saintly academic decathlon team--boy, there's a source with little prejudice!), but her remarks were so acidic and catty and holier-than-thou they handily repulsed any empathy. I raised my eyebrows especially high for her comment about the student on the Steinmetz High School team who was supposedly portrayed as the hero of the film. Valentin ends a paragraph of self-righteousness by pointing out the student is now "just a mom working in a mall." I, actually, have had occasion to know many fine moms who worked in malls, including my own mom, and they were all upstanding people who, humbled by circumstance, never had occasion to behave like total raving snobs.

Secondly, the article was strangely embarrassing in its implied assessment of Larry Minkoff as a martyr to the cause due to the fact that he died. Give me a break! Mr. Clark returned two or three times to the death of Minkoff to milk the sadness and woe of the whole affair. Ironically, it is so very Hollywood to wring sympathy out of a death; I think Mr. Clark forgets that everybody dies. Death is unfortunate, but in the real world is probably best considered a way to better appreciate the time we have on earth and with each other, instead of being considered a weapon to prove the folly of those evil, moneygrubbing filmmakers who rape corpses to trumpet their warped perceptions.

As for Cheaters, I have not seen the film, but a mainstay of acting and creating drama is to "play the opposite," a method culling the more interesting performance, presenting the conflict of a situation as a more difficult puzzle to resolve. My guess would be that director John Stockwell is landing his sympathies with the apparent bad guys to better understand how we sin and what we gain/lose from it, and to bring out the gray instead of the black and white in the incident. And he probably takes some fictional liberties to pave the way for this intent, which is his absolute right as a filmmaker. I'm sure Mr. Clark and Co. would've preferred a spoon-fed, cut-and-dry movie about the holy Whitney Young conquering the scourge of Steinmetz, but the rest of us prefer when movies are interesting and thought provoking.

Anyway, whatever Stockwell's slant, I think what the Steinmetz kids did is absolutely exhilarating. It was, as Mr. Clark tried hard not to point out, an incredibly gutsy (albeit unintentionally so) act of civil disobedience, made more obstreperous by the idea that the students didn't bother to cheat sneakily, they just went on ahead and got the highest scores ever. That's the spirit! Fuck the establishment! Fight the power! Burn, baby, burn! Mr. Clark, you should be grateful for upstarts and troublemakers such as those at Steinmetz. Otherwise, there would be nobody keeping you and your high-minded kind on guard, and the world would fall into moral torpor and sloth.

Sincerely,

Guy Jackson

Chicago

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