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Would You, Could You, in the Dark?

After I, my girlfriend, and two friends very much enjoyed I Am Sam, it was without surprise that I saw that it was panned by one of your film critics (“Out With the In-Crowd,” 1/26). The word “mawkish” was used. Anything with a whiff of sentimentality is dismissed as mawkish or maudlin by most critics in these progressive weeklies in each of our nation’s cities. (Every city has its version of the Washington City Paper, written by pretentious people trying to be hip. Of course, being hip is to mock sentimentality with sardonic bullshit).

I am a traitor. I briefly wrote for the Baltimore City Paper in 1986 after graduating from college. At the time, I hated sentimentality and extolled the cool romanticization of heroin and violence by the Velvet Underground. Sixteen years later, I have betrayed my former self and my clones at your paper: Music like the Velvets’ and movies like Goodfellas and Pulp Fiction, although cleverly crafted, now strike me as mostly juvenile junk. Because sentimentality is stereotyped as traditionally feminine, stupid, insecure men fall for the stereotype and eschew sentimentality for bay-boy junk at a semiconscious level, because their egos need to identify with that which is tough and unsentimental. Likewise, stupid, insecure, “liberal” women fall for it at the same level because their egos need to identify with that which is not traditionally feminine.

I am not saying I like all things sentimental. A little sugar goes a long way. I have not thrown out my mostly bitter Velvet Underground records for sickeningly sweet Barry Manilow CDs. It is just that I frequently think back to the ’80s and ’90s, when I wasted a lot of time listening to arrogant, pretentious people gush at the likes of Pulp Fiction. And I am sure that right now these same people are calling I Am Sam sentimental drivel, which it is not.

Your critic missed the point of the film. It was not about love triumphing over legalism. It was about what it is that children really need from a parent—much of which cannot be provided by wealthy, busy, self-absorbed parents, like the lawyer and her cheating husband, no matter how intelligent. Children can get the attention and care they need most from someone far poorer and far, far less intelligent, someone like Sam. Notice that Sam’s devotion to quality—shown both in the love and time he gives to his daughter and the commitment he gives to his menial jobs—is bred of un-self-conscious caring and goodwill. The legal and ethical questions regarding to what extent retarded people should be able to serve as parents have yet to be definitively solved by judges, philosophers, or anyone else. In addressing these questions, we should think of the many things retarded people can teach us that we hip, cynical, sardonic, pretentious people who think we are so smart do not have a clue about.

College Park, Md.