Aren't Margaret Cho and Dave Chappelle Lenny's children, too? Has Ramtha been wrongly maligned and Gwyneth unduly praised? Salon readers weigh in.

Published September 29, 2004 8:00PM (EDT)

[Read "Gwyn, Lose or Draw," by Charles Taylor.]

Contrary to the article's claim, my dislike of Gwyneth Paltrow has always been based on what I've perceived as her (at best) underwhelming acting. Mr. Taylor's description of Ms. Paltrow in Chekhov renders it quite well. At her best, Ms. Paltrow can be Puck-in-high-school-drama-class cute; more often than not, her acting is dull and bloodless, fit perhaps for casting as one of E.A. Poe's catatonic heroines. She is passable in stylized films because her acting is two-dimensional, i.e., unintentionally stylized.

In an interview I read with her last year, Ms. Paltrow claimed she was damn good at what she does. I beg to disagree. Why blame those viewers who have a hard time swallowing these annual P.R. princesses awarded their Oscars for formulaic Hollywood dramas? Monkey-trained to worship the glamour, peasants ogling the self-appointed royalty, we think, "That dress is kind of neat," "The movie wasn't so bad," yet never escape the nagging feeling that the girl was chosen "Mulholland Drive"-style: "This is the girl." I'm sorry not to see in Ms. Paltrow anything to distinguish her from this set. Compare her to someone who was really born to act, e.g., Isabelle Huppert, and you'll see how poor a case you're making. I do wish she would prove me wrong.

-- Ana B. Bowling

Great article. There are plenty of well-connected wannabe actors who fail. Gwyneth Paltrow succeeded based on her talent.

-- Laura Roos

How brave of Charles Taylor to expose that most insidious and destructive of prejudices, the persecution of the "rich, white, beautiful and successful." Like any good crusader, he makes the case that everything Gwyneth Paltrow has ever done has been unfairly maligned by her critics.

In the course of defending Paltrow's honor, he finds himself compelled, mystifyingly, to defend "A View From the Top." (This is a movie that even Paltrow herself has been rumored to call "A View From My A**.") Is it really necessary that everything she has done be worthy of praise for her to achieve the status of "good" actress?

But even more troubling is Taylor's entirely rose-colored reading of "Shallow Hal," a movie that claimed to be pro-inner beauty while making every fat joke in the book. The movie was nowhere near as one-sided as he claims. "Shallow Hal" didn't just argue against superficiality. It further made the progressive case that one has to get beyond the fact that one's girlfriend is a chair-breaking, pool-emptying, huge-underwear-wearing, overeating "cow/hippo/rhino" to get to her inner beauty. Forgive me if I do have some questions about Paltrow's character for accepting the role after reading the script.

What Taylor misses entirely is that half of Paltrow-hatred's purchase comes from glowing paeans like his. It comes from frustration that her perfection seems to be accepted as a given. Paltrow has faults: She makes bad movies, she is sometimes bad in good movies, and for a woman who seems to cross the Atlantic at least twice a week, her public image is surprisingly self-absorbed. We do a disservice when we pretend that she has no faults, giving both ourselves and her an impossible standard to live up to. I think that even Paltrow would agree with that.

-- Michelle Dean

In reading Charles Taylor's rehash of the wan and dull career of Gwyneth Paltrow, I know he's never paid any of his hard-earned money to see one of her terrible movies, "Shakespeare in Love" and "Seven" excluded. I had the awful experience of sitting through "A Perfect Murder"; a houseplant could have played her role with more passion. She's simply lifeless on-screen. Her presence in a movie makes me not want to see it despite giant robots, '30s sets and Angelina Jolie in an eye patch.

As an African-American woman, I found Taylor attributing the dislike of Paltrow's acting to her being rich, white, pretty and successful vaguely disturbing. There are plenty of white actresses that I like; their bank accounts or skin color have nothing to do with it. I just like good acting, something Ms. Paltrow is sadly lacking.

-- Cathy Patrick

I always mention what a crappy actress Gwyneth Paltrow is when I discuss her. The fact of her extreme privilege is merely the reason why she's on-screen -- it's not what makes her so profoundly boring.

But now that you mention it, wanting or owning a Harry Winston necklace is a moral failing. Or at least a character flaw.

-- Morgan Nichols

[Read "'Bleep' of Faith," by John Gorenfeld.]

In "'Bleep' of Faith," John Gorenfeld seems to be on some kind of rampage to throw dirt on Ramtha's School of Enlightenment instead of discussing the movie "What the Bleep Do We Know!?" (which is a fantastic movie!). Having attended this school myself I was amazed at the misinformation and slanted pieces of information that were taken out of context and used in his article. He seems angry and spiteful instead of informed and interesting. His insinuation that the school is a "cult" and that the grounds are a "compound" is laughable. Those accusations are old and boring and have been disproved time and again over the last 25 years. There is no cult; no students live there; no one "worships" Ramtha. It is a school of fantastic learning that has the courage to "step out of the box."

-- Elaine Boothby

Thanks for your article about the movie "What the Bleep Do We Know!?" I saw the film and was swept up in its feel-good message. I was prepared to see it a second time and went to the Web site for the film to find out more. As I investigated the "scientists" interviewed for the film, I saw that Jeffrey Satinover, M.D., had written a few books and I wanted to know more about him. I have since discovered that he works for Focus on the Family and propagates that homosexuals can be "healed" and change their sexual "preference" as opposed to sexual identity being a fact of genetic orientation. He has testified before Congress to say that the homosexual lifestyle is a choice and should not be rewarded with equal rights of marriage, child rearing, etc.

Thanks again for your new look at this film. I wrote the filmmakers to ask why they would include such a bigoted homophobe in their "love"-inspired film, yet got no reply.

-- Joe Hogan

[Read "Lenny's Children," by Dan Kois.]

I enjoyed your "Lenny's Children" article, but one has to wonder about the exclusion of Dave Chappelle from the list.

-- Mike Lewis

If the name Bill Hicks didn't immediately leap to mind when you were compiling your list of performers to carry Lenny Bruce's torch, then you must not have ever heard of Bill Hicks. If that's the case, I really feel sorry for you. Check him out.

-- Alex Castle

As a fan of Lenny Bruce, I feel that your list ignored some of the best comedians around and I noticed that most of the comedians that you ignored are women. I would like to ask, where does Salon place those women?

Where is Margaret Cho, an outspoken Korean-American who is openly queer and openly anti-Bush? Her most recent tour saw her ripping President Bush to shreds on stages and at radio stations across the country. She is adored by audiences of straights and gays and loathed by the right wing.

Where is Janeane Garofalo, a woman who made a career by attacking Hollywood's viselike grip on women's body-image problems? She spoke candidly about sex and relationships, politics and, of course, her body. She has spent the past few years fighting the Bush administration tooth and nail on everything from abortion rights to FCC rules with a coalition of other celebs and her caustic wit.

Where is Wanda Sykes, a truly hilarious, uninhibited black woman who will talk trash about white people, talk trash about black people and talk trash about the relations between these races? Sykes' shows are sidesplitting, outrageous and smart. She plays up her cranky persona and uses her foul mouth to produce some provocative comedy that is as insightful as it is funny.

I realize that there couldn't be room for every comedian (or comedy troupe) that is challenging the idea of stand-up comedy and bringing more to the stage, but I feel these omissions were glaring! Shame on Salon for leaving out these luminary ladies.

-- Courtney Barbour

In listing the 10 comedians author Dan Kois feels are most valiantly carrying the torch left by Lenny Bruce, I find it almost criminal that Kois omitted Doug Stanhope. Very few people in this country are familiar with Stanhope, and those who are generally owe their experience with him to his co-hosting bid on the recently canceled "Man Show" alongside Joe Rogan, or from his own hidden-camera show on Fox. The things Stanhope got away with on those shows were funny enough (in the hidden-camera show, he walked into a bar with an IV tube claiming he just snuck out of the hospital with a bum liver, and convinced a barfly to pour liquor directly into his IV). But they are tame in comparison to the scathing commentary of his live shows and on his CDs. It is his particular brand of fiery offensiveness that earned him an award in his first year at the Edinburgh comedy festival last year. I implore Dan Kois to listen to Stanhope's most recent two CDs, "Die Laughing" and "Deadbeat Hero," if he's not already familiar with him.

-- Arun Subramanian

I have to say it is a bit difficult to take any list seriously that omits Trey Parker and Matt Stone. "South Park" has consistently pushed the boundaries of "decency." From its lampooning of Alan Jackson for exploiting 9/11 to its caricature of Mel Gibson as a feces-wielding lunatic. And who can forget its depiction of Mecha-Streisand, exposing Barbra Streisand's meglomania and her fans' irrational obsession with such a mediocre entertainer? Few if any shows so expose the ignorance and reactionary element seething under the surface of the "family values" facade.

-- Robert Chester

By Salon Staff

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