Happy End

The Happy End Requirement: The Brokeback Mountain Example

One of the common themes I have written about here is our culture’s insistence that stories have a happy end. In the first post I wrote on the subject, The Happy End vs. The Noble End, I used the example of Brokeback Mountain as one of the few examples of a popular story with a tragic ending.

Heath Ledger’s taciturn character Ennis Del Mar never does reveal the great love of his life to anyone. Only he and the audience know what happened between him and Jack Twist and what it meant to him. A character like Ennis Del Mar is a stand in for all of the people whose struggles we will never know.

Brokeback Mountain illustrates something important about tragedies. They usually have a third main character– the society that surrounds the characters. If Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist had ridden into the sunset together, it might have made us happier as an audience. Everyone could leave the theater reassured that there may have been problems along the way but in the end, people get what they deserve in life. It would not have been a powerful story that made us ask questions about society. Sometimes only tragedy can make that point.

The author of the original short story on which the film was based, Annie Proulx, agrees. She recently told the Paris Review that she is so frustrated with people trying to rewrite the story with a happy end that she wishes she had never written the story.

[T]he problem has come since the film. So many people have completely misunderstood the story. I think it’s important to leave spaces in a story for readers to fill in from their own experience, but unfortunately the audience that “Brokeback” reached most strongly have powerful fantasy lives. And one of the reasons we keep the gates locked here is that a lot of men have decided that the story should have had a happy ending. They can’t bear the way it ends — they just can’t stand it. So they rewrite the story, including all kinds of boyfriends and new lovers and so forth after Jack is killed. And it just drives me wild.

They can’t understand that the story isn’t about Jack and Ennis. It’s about homophobia; it’s about a social situation; it’s about a place and a particular mindset and morality. They just don’t get it. I can’t tell you how many of these things have been sent to me as though they’re expecting me to say, Oh great, if only I’d had the sense to write it that way.

Advertisements

Conditioned Like a Lab Animal

“To some degree, I was being conditioned like a lab animal against ambition.”-Catherine Nichols.

This quote, by author Catherine Nichols sums up in a more concise and personal way what I took hundreds of words to say in an essay about the different “happy ends” for stories aimed at men and women.

(Actually, I was tempted to shorten the quote so it read “…I was being conditioned like a lab animal against ambition,” but I decided that the hedging, equivocal version demonstrated its own point.)

The Guardian yesterday ran an article on Nichols essay for Jezebel in which she reported on the different level of success she had sending queries with a male pen name over her own name. Spoiler alert: George was taken much more seriously than Catherine.

What is particularly insidious, however, is how differently writing is perceived when it comes from the pen of a man or a woman and what story we–and men and women are equally guilty–expect the writer to tell.

Responses from agents to Catherine Nichols included comments such as “beautiful writing, but your main character isn’t very plucky, is she?”; responses to her male pseudonym, whom she imagined “as a sort of reptilian Michael Fassbender-looking guy, drinking whiskey and walking around train yards at night while I did the work”, were “polite and warm”, even when they were rejections, describing the work as “clever”, “well-constructed” and “exciting”.

I ran into this wall of expectation a couple of years ago when I was trying to find an agent for my novel Identity Theft and later when I was trying to get reviews for it. Identity Theft opens essentially like a romantic comedy in which you have a woman who longs for romance with an exciting and glamorous man and you have an unglamorous man who comes into her life through fate and a bit of deception.

A potential agent read the opening chapters, which introduce the characters, and felt that he knew exactly where the book would go. He was ready to represent what he viewed as a well-written version of the female story. The agent did not like my ending, which he had encountered only in the synopsis and outline. He did not realize that the book actually subverts the “love through deception” romantic comedy trope and turns into more of a thriller than a romantic comedy at its midpoint.

The agent was convinced based on the opening that there was only one right ending and that the female protagonist should end up living happily ever after with the unglamorous man. In the end I did make some changes to my original concept to make the work more in line with audience expectations, although I did not simply turn it into the romantic comedy the agent assumed it to be. Thus this quote from the Guardian article resonated with me:

“A small series of constraints can stop the writer before she’s ever worth writing about. Women in particular seem vulnerable in that middle stretch to having our work pruned back until it’s compact enough to fit inside a pink cover,” she believes.

After Identity Theft was published I booked a “virtual book tour” to promote it and one of the potential reviewers read about as far as the agent had and gave up on it because she deemed the book to be “predictable.” That is to say, she had guessed at where it was going, deemed the book “one of those” and decided she didn’t have to read any further. Reviewers who finished the book, whether they liked it or not, universally found the ending surprising.

This experience led me to think about reader expectations and gender and to conclude that there is a different happy end for “male” stories and for “female” stories and that there is a much larger social effect to this. Boys and men are being primed to do things in the world where as women are, as Nichols said, conditioned against ambition. In my essay two years ago, I used The Devil Wears Prada as an example.

In “The Devil Wears Prada,” the main character is dumped by her boyfriend because her demanding job does not allow her to devote enough attention to him. As an audience we are expected to take his side and to agree that she is going the wrong direction.

This same type of conflict is quite common in films with male protagonists. A man becomes obsessed with a mission of some kind– winning a legal case, catching a killer, saving the world from aliens– what have you. At some point he argues with his wife who feels he is shirking his family responsibilities. In this case, however, the audience is expected to understand that his mission is vitally important. We do not want him to decide that catching the killer isn’t that important after all in the greater scheme of things and that he should walk away to focus on his authentic emotional life. What generally happens, instead, is that against all odds, with no one backing him, the hero completes his mission winning the admiration of his wife in the process.

Prada is not an isolated example of the “female happy end” where the woman shuns worldly status. One of the most popular films of all times is “Titanic” in which bold and feisty Rose realizes that her upper class life is empty after she meets working class Jack Dawson on deck. She walks away from a life of riches and even throws a priceless gem into the sea.

The female protagonist has a happy end not when she has status in the world, but when she transcends the desire for status.

No one ever taught me this in so many words, but I learned it all the same. When I looked back at my own writing, I found that my early fiction, written when I was in high school and college, almost all fit the female happy end model. The female protagonist faced a difficult challenge and reached a resolution not by overcoming the odds and succeeding but by learning to accept herself just as she is. Success through self-esteem! In the real world, this leads to a culture in which we try to “empower” girls by making them feel good about themselves, whether they actually achieve anything or not.

As women, we are all “conditioned like lab animals against ambition.” There is no “to some degree” about it.

 

 

Who Was That Masked Man?

UntitledRecently I’ve had the opportunity to look through a large stash of family papers related to my great uncle James Jewell, who was the director and part of the team that created The Lone Ranger, which began as a radio series on WXYZ.

The files contained some documents relating to that character and also to shows that were less successful. Many of them shared characteristics with The Lone Ranger.

As I was discussing The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet (my grandmother, Leonore Jewell Allman, played the role of Lenore Case on that program) I thought about all of those masked superheroes created in the 1930s. The Lone Ranger and Superman were both created in 1933. The Green Hornet in 1936. Batman was created in 1939.

I thought about some of the articles I have been writing here about how our culture has changed since the late 19th Century. Victorians enjoyed tragic endings where the protagonists did something noble that was never revealed or rewarded. It occurred to me that these masked heroes of the early 20th Century represent a transitional period in our culture. They manage to embody both ethos through the simple expedient of a secret identity. Their deeds are known and celebrated– as Superman or The Lone Ranger– but their personal identities are not. Like a 19th Century character they do the moral thing for the good of it with no earthly reward. The people in the newsroom never know that Clark Kent is a hero. Yet he is not entirely unacknowledged as his alter ego is praised.

The Happy End vs. The Noble End III: Navy Seal Edition

A while back I wrote a pair of articles on “The Happy End vs. The Noble End.”  The first article discussed our preference for endings in which the main character emerges victorious compared to the popular 19th Century ending in which the hero’s good deeds went unrewarded and unknown.

I wrote in the first article:

The theme of nobility conducted in secret was popular a century ago. It doesn’t sit well with us now. It seems to fly in the face of our notion of a just world. At least this is the conventional wisdom about what audiences want.

We have occasional glimpses of noble self-sacrifice. Action movies often feature a secondary character who fills that role. Michelle Rodriguez’s role in Avatar, Trudy Cachon, comes to mind, but the film does not make her crisis of conscience central and her death for a greater good is in support of the real business of allowing the heroes pummel the bad guys and save the day.

(Incidentally, while we’re talking about Trudy Cachon taking the fall so our hero can save the day, you might want to read about a couple of TV/Movie tropes. “Black Dude Dies First” and “Vasquez Always Dies.”)

In the follow up article on the topic, I talked about how we are now living in what one cultural historian calls “The Culture of Personality” as contrasted with the 19th Century “Culture of Character.”  Susan Cain, in her book Quiet, described this shift:

In the Culture of Character, the ideal self was serious, disciplined, and honorable. What counted was not so much the impression one made in public as how one behaved in private. The word personality didn’t exist in English until the eighteenth century, and the idea of “having a good personality” was not widespread until the twentieth. But when they embraced the Culture of Personality, Americans started to focus on how others perceived them. They became captivated by people who were bold and entertaining….

I concluded:

The ideal hero has changed as well. The physical laborer owned his inner world, as did his hero. The service worker gets things by manipulating the impression he makes on people in the outer world. His hero acts in this realm and must win in this realm. In the culture of personality, what is not apparent to the outer world might as well not exist. If good intentions do not yield good results– directly for the person who is the viewpoint character– what is the point? We can’t abide by a story like Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth where the main character’s self-sacrifice is a secret shared only with the reader. We may not change the story to the extent that Lily Bart lives happily ever after, but in the modern film version we at least have to see that someone in her world learns what she did.

So building a “personality” and getting credit for your good deeds are matters of survival in the attention economy.

We are seeing a real world demonstration of the effects of these narratives among members of the military. In the past few weeks a couple of members of the Navy Seals have gone on record claiming to be the man who pulled the trigger and killed Osama Bin Laden.

The publicity seeking among the ranks of Seal Team Six has led Rear Adm. Brian Losey to write a letter reminding the elite forces that it is not part of their culture to take credit or seek the limelight.  As reported in the Navy Times:

“At Naval Special Warfare’s core is the SEAL ethos,” according to the letter, which was obtained by Navy Times. “A critical tenant of our ethos is ‘I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions.’ Our ethos is a life-long commitment and obligation, both in and out of the service. Violators of our ethos are neither teammates in good standing, nor teammates who represent Naval Special Warfare.”

…“We will not abide willful or selfish disregard for our core values in return for public notoriety and financial gain, which only diminishes otherwise honorable service, courage and sacrifice,” the letter says. “Our credibility as a premier fighting force is forged in this sacrifice and has been accomplished with honor, as well as humility.”

Yet our culture does not tell the stories of those who sacrifice with humility. Yes, our politicians lay wreaths at the tomb of the unknowns and they utter stirring words about serving with honor. But in our popular narrative we have abandoned the character who acts with honor when no one is looking. If we do not tell stories that honor those who make unrewarded sacrifices, how can we expect our soldiers to feel truly valued when their deeds remain unknown?

The Happy End: Male vs. Female

over-the-rainbow“Audiences know what to expect, and that is all they are prepared to believe in.”-Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead

Back in November, I had a conversation with an agent about a novel I am looking to publish. He had strong opinions about what types of books are marketable, as all agents do. His point of view was that for a story to sell it had to conform to certain reader expectations. There was, he argued, a natural ending for stories and the natural ending was exactly the one you would expect. In the Hollywood movie, the hero saves the world and wins the respect of his estranged girlfriend in the process, for example. If the film does not deliver the expected resolution then audiences will not be satisfied. Call it the “Rosencrantz Theory of Literature.”

Of course, what is considered a “natural ending” changes over time and across cultures. The satisfying end for the Victorians was one in which the protagonist was destroyed by cruel society. We prefer the “happy end.”

The “happy end” differs depending on whether the protagonist is male or female. Here are the two “natural ends” for popular narratives: In the male happy end the narrative is complete when the hero has scored a victory against great odds. In the female narrative the “natural ending” comes when she is content with the life she has (with bonus points if she finishes the story in true love).

Dorthy has all kinds of adventures in Oz, but the message she comes away with is “there’s no place like home.” Her victory is not becoming the leader of Emerald City, it is being content to live in black and white Kansas. She has a happy end when she stops dreaming of a better life “somewhere over the rainbow.” Put another way, victory for Dorothy is giving up on her dreams.

This is not a narrative that died in the 1940s. It was not pushed aside by women’s lib in the 1970s. In fact, I came to the realization that the expectation of a “natural ending” was different for women while watching “The Devil Wears Prada” the other night on a hotel TV.

In Prada, the protagonist is a young woman who scores what is considered to be a dream job as the assistant to the editor of a major fashion magazine. Her boss is demanding and ruthless. The young woman moves up the ranks and ends up on a glamorous trip to Paris Fashion Week rubbing elbows with high society. Her boss, incidentally, is pictured as having a rocky home life as is expected. Powerful female business women are expected to achieve status at the expense of real relationships. Our protagonist does not want to make the same mistake. In the end (spoiler alert) she walks away from the shallow and artificial life of status and glamor to return to a more “authentic” existence. We see her stepping out of a taxi and abandoning her boss as the boss looks on with disguised admiration for the young woman. The film ends with the main character walking in comfortable clothes with her head held high.

It struck me that this was the expected ending, the Rosencrantz ending, the one audiences are prepared to believe and publishers are prepared to buy.

It also struck me that it was an inversion of the expected male ending. The male protagonist’s story would tend to resolve with the man victorious in the career field he had entered. There was a point in the movie where the main character becomes aware of a plot that could oust the editor. She tries to protect the boss who has made her life so difficult. I would expect the male character to use this opportunity to forward his own interests and bring down the bad guy. It might end with him as the editor of the publication himself. It is not common for the male narrative to end not with worldly success but with the character deciding he does not want to play the game.

In “The Devil Wears Prada,” the main character is dumped by her boyfriend because her demanding job does not allow her to devote enough attention to him. As an audience we are expected to take his side and to agree that she is going the wrong direction.

This same type of conflict is quite common in films with male protagonists. A man becomes obsessed with a mission of some kind– winning a legal case, catching a killer, saving the world from aliens– what have you. At some point he argues with his wife who feels he is shirking his family responsibilities. In this case, however, the audience is expected to understand that his mission is vitally important. We do not want him to decide that catching the killer isn’t that important after all in the greater scheme of things and that he should walk away to focus on his authentic emotional life. What generally happens, instead, is that against all odds, with no one backing him, the hero completes his mission winning the admiration of his wife in the process.

Prada is not an isolated example of the “female happy end” where the woman shuns worldly status. One of the most popular films of all times is “Titanic” in which bold and feisty Rose realizes that her upper class life is empty after she meets working class Jack Dawson on deck. She walks away from a life of riches and even throws a priceless gem into the sea.

The female protagonist has a happy end not when she has status in the world, but when she transcends the desire for status.

Dorothy has a happy end when she gives up on her dreams.

The Happy End vs. The Noble End Part II

Last November, I wrote a long post, The Happy End vs. The Noble End about how many 19th Century works are altered to give them more “happy ends” when they are adapted to appeal to a modern audience.  I talked about the popularity of tragic, noble endings in Dickens day vs. our own.

ImageYesterday I was skimming through Susan Cain’s Quiet again and I came a little bit closer to understanding the cultural change that has made happy ends, in which the characters get what they wanted at the beginning of the story, eclipse noble ends, in which characters perform good works in secret and receive no earthly reward for it.

Cain cites the influential cultural historian Warren Susman who dubbed our extrovert-focused culture a “Culture of Personality.”

“The social role demanded of all in the new Culture of Personality was that of a performer,” Susman wrote. “Every American was to become a performing self.”

Before we started to admire those with the greatest skills in self-promotion, we lived in what Susman described as the Culture of Character.

Cain writes:

In the Culture of Character, the ideal self was serious, disciplined, and honorable. What counted was not so much the impression one made in public as how one behaved in private. The word personality didn’t exist in English until the eighteenth century, and the idea of “having a good personality” was not widespread until the twentieth. But when they embraced the Culture of Personality, Americans started to focus on how others perceived them. They became captivated by people who were bold and entertaining….

Susman counted the words that appeared most frequently in the advice manuals of the early twentieth century and compared them to similar advice manuals from a century earlier. The earlier guides used these words: Citizenship, Duty, Work, Golden deeds, Honor, Reputation, Morals, Manners, Integrity. The new breed of self-help literature focuses on personality trait and uses words like: Magnetic, Fascinating, Stunning, Attractive, Glowing, Dominant, Forceful, Energetic.

This shift is not mere vanity, by the way. It is a survival tactic. In her book The Managed Heart by Arlie Russell Hochschild makes a good case that as our economy has shifted from a base in manufacturing and agriculture to one with more and more service jobs, presenting a pleasant personality has become a required job skill.  She sums up the difference in 19th century and modern labor this way: “in order to survive in their jobs, (workers) must mentally detach themselves– the factory worker from his own body and physical labor, and the flight attendant from her own feelings and emotional labor.”

The ideal hero has changed as well. The physical laborer owned his inner world, as did his hero. The service worker gets things by manipulating the impression he makes on people in the outer world. His hero acts in this realm and must win in this realm. In the culture of personality, what is not apparent to the outer world might as well not exist. If good intentions do not yield good results– directly for the person who is the viewpoint character– what is the point? We can’t abide by a story like Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth where the main character’s self-sacrifice is a secret shared only with the reader. We may not change the story to the extent that Lily Bart lives happily ever after, but in the modern film version we at least have to see that someone in her world learns what she did.

The most dramatic story in a culture of character, however, is one that gives the reader a glimpse of someone who has a strong moral center. The best test of that character is what a person does when his goodness goes completely unrewarded and unknown.  The tragic end of the 19th Century is just as idealistic and uplifting in its own way as the requisite “happy ending” of our times.

Both types of endings provide reassurance.  In modern culture we want to reassure audiences that they can win against all odds and that their efforts will be recognized eventually.  More reassuring to those living in a culture of character was the idea that a person could maintain ideals and morality in the face of the greatest hardship and unfairness.

Save

The Happy End vs. The Noble End

When Steve Martin adapted Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac for American audiences, he stuck fairly close to the original with a few important twists.

The premise of Cyrano is familiar and parodies and homages often find their way into comedy plots.  We remember that an articulate man with a big nose secretly wrote love letters and spoke on behalf of a less articulate– but more handsome– man. He was able to find just the right words to describe Roxanne’s beauty because he was secretly in love with her himself.

What people often don’t quite remember is how the story ends. In Steve Martin’s version Roxanne, played by Darryl Hannah discovers the deception, realizes she was really in love with the poetry not the face, the boy gets the girl and they live happily ever after.

The original was not quite as happy. Roxanne marries the handsome young Christian, just before he and Cyrano go off to war.  Cyrano keeps writing love letters. Christian comes to realize that if Roxanne loves him because of Cyrano’s writing, she doesn’t love him at all. He wants to tell her the truth, but he is killed in battle. Because Cyrano loves Roxanne, he wants to let her keep her image of her husband. Roxanne never learns the truth until Cyrano is on his death bed. He denies to his last breath.

This is no happy end. It is, rather, a noble end. Most narratives in our culture end with the protagonist getting what he ought to have. In Rostand’s drama, Cyrano did not get the girl but he had a different kind of victory. He maintained an ideal, even if it meant sacrificing his own happiness.

Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, published in 1859, is similar in that it is a story of mistaken identity which ends with a character sacrificing himself for the greater good. In both cases, the characters perform their acts of nobility largely in secret. The societies around them will never celebrate them. Charles Daray is a good-natured aristocrat who bears a striking physical resemblance to a barrister named Sydney Carton whose life has not amounted to much. Carton suffers from un-requited love for Darnay’s wife Lucie. It is the time of the French revolution, and as an artistocrat Darnay is in danger. Lucie’s devoted pursuit of him puts her and her father at risk as well. In order to save Lucie, Carton visits Darnay in prison, drugs him and has an accomplice carry him out so that Carton can take his place at the guillotine.  The novel’s last words, spoken by Carton as he goes to his death, are some of the most famous in literature:  “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

When filmmakers adapted Edith Wharton’s 1905 House of Mirth for the screen, they could not stomach the unsettling ending in which the main character Lily Bart’s self-sacrifice remains unknown to anyone but the reader.  Lily Bart’s tragedy is that she is caught in an era in which the aristocratic class are still marrying for wealth and position but she is torn between that reality and a notion of romantic love. Initially she is unwilling to risk her social position by marrying the man she really loves, Lawrence Selden, but she is also unwilling to marry someone more “suitable” who she does not love. Throughout the novel, through a series of manufactured scandals that allow others to maintain social position at her expense, Bart’s position declines to utter poverty. She has an opportunity to save herself by making public some love letters that prove Selden had an affair years earlier with another character. She is not willing to destroy Selden’s reputation. She burns the letters and dies of an overdose just as Selden is coming to ask her to marry him– a final tragic example of terrible timing. The film doesn’t go so far as to give the couple a happy end, but Bart’s sacrifice is no longer secret. Selden finds the letters and realizes what she has done.

The theme of nobility conducted in secret was popular a century ago. It doesn’t sit well with us now. It seems to fly in the face of our notion of a just world. At least this is the conventional wisdom about what audiences want.

We have occasional glimpses of noble self-sacrifice. Action movies often feature a secondary character who fills that role. Michelle Rodriguez’s role in Avatar, Trudy Cachon, comes to mind, but the film does not make her crisis of conscience central and her death for a greater good is in support of the real business of allowing the heroes pummel the bad guys and save the day.

There are two counter examples of silent and noble endings in recent poplar culture that I can think of. The first is another film by James Cameron, one of the most popular films of all time– Titanic. James Dawson teaches Rose what it is to be alive and changes the direction of her life before succumbing to the sea. (He seems to sacrifice himself needlessly. Didn’t it seem like he could have fit on that floating board along side Rose if he’d tried one more time?) Because he won his ticket in a game of poker, no one even knew he was on the ship of that he existed at all. His story does not remain entirely untold though. Old Rose tells the researchers about Dawson in the framing story.

The other example of a silent tragedy is Brokeback Mountain. Heath Ledger’s taciturn character Ennis Del Mar never does reveal the great love of his life to anyone. Only he and the audience know what happened between him and Jack Twist and what it meant to him. A character like Ennis Del Mar is a stand in for all of the people whose struggles we will never know.

Brokeback Mountain illustrates something important about tragedies. They usually have a third main character– the society that surrounds the characters. If Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist had ridden into the sunset together, it might have made us happier as an audience. Everyone could leave the theater reassured that there may have been problems along the way but in the end, people get what they deserve in life. It would not have been a powerful story that made us ask questions about society. Sometimes only tragedy can make that point.

“The tragic right is a condition of life,” Arthur Miller wrote, “a condition in which the human personality is able to flower and realize itself. The wrong is the condition which suppresses man, perverts the flowing out of his love and creative instinct. Tragedy enlightens-and it must, in that it points the heroic finger at the enemy of man’s freedom. The thrust for freedom is the quality in tragedy which exalts. The revolutionary questioning of the stable environment is what terrifies.”

Lily Bart’s tragic downfall and death asks readers to think about the harm social structures and status seeking can cause. Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, the first installment of which was published in 1873, makes a similar critique of social posturing. It ends with Karenina’s suicide by jumping in front of a train. The lush film version released in 2012 was such a visual feast that the tragedy played like a dream sequence. If you didn’t know the story to begin with the ending would probably leave you turning to the person in the seat beside you and asking, “So, did she just kill herself or does that mean something else?” It doesn’t invite viewers to sit with the tragedy, feel the loss, and wonder how such a thing can be prevented in the future.

If we told more stories of people who were harmed by our social striving and of people who acted with character and nobility while their tales remained secret to those around them, might we view other people with more compassion? Maybe the person who appears to be life’s loser is a hero and you just don’t know it.

Telling stories is how we give meaning to our lives. We explain where we have been, how that shapes us now, and where we are going. Our personal stories are unconsciously and inevitably modeled on the stories we tell as a society, our cultural myths. The near requirement that fiction have a happy ending in order to be published or produced says that a story is not worth telling until the main character has succeeded. What does that mean for our personal stories? Do we feel we do not quite exist until we have gotten the girl, slayed the dragon, hit the home run?

Tragic stories say that the human drama, the struggles of life, have meaning even if you don’t win in the end.

Related Article:
Tyranny of the Happy Ending by Laura Miller, Salon.com.