As the Oscar campaign comes down to its climactic concluding days, I've been amazed to see much of the ferocious battle for Best Picture improbably and irrationally focused on . . . me.
In recent weeks, some of the nation's most influential cultural observers have chosen to concentrate their Academy Awards commentary on my harsh reaction on radio and TV about the deceptive packaging of Clint Eastwood's boxing-and-euthanasia epic, "Million Dollar Baby." Roger Ebert raised the issue in several columns, attacking my decision to mention the movie's crucial assisted-suicide theme as "unforgivable." Maureen Dowd portrayed me as a witless censor (and even coined a new word, "Medvedized") while suggesting that consistency demanded my objection to classic suicide scenes in Shakespeare. Frank Rich berated me as a leader of "the usual gang of ayatollahs" in a column titled "How Dirty Harry Turned Commie," comparing my criticism of Eastwood's film to the lunacy of the House Un-American Activities Committee investigating 10-year-old Shirley Temple in 1938. In more than a dozen other commentaries, from the Los Angeles Times to the Houston Chronicle, outraged observers expressed not only disagreement but denunciation of my unpopular position as a skeptic regarding one of the most absurdly over-praised movies in recent Hollywood history.
Initially, the condemnation centered on my alleged role as a "spoiler," suggesting that I had maliciously damaged the commercial prospects for "Million Dollar Baby" by "describing its plot in great detail" (according to Roger Ebert). As a matter of fact, I never disclosed specifics on the movie's dark surprise, nor indicated which of its endearing characters chose to exercise "the right to die."
Eventually, the leading disabilities rights organizations in the country staged protests against the movie's implicit endorsement of the idea that life in a wheelchair or hospital bed can't be worth living, so it became less plausible to blame me for outing "Baby's" dirty little secret and warning potential filmgoers about its most disquieting elements. Oddly enough, none of the movie's indignant defenders struck back at the disabled activists, concentrating their criticism entirely on conservative "culprits" and illustrating a glaring double standard.