It’s hyst a short statement on (amazing) actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Tumblr, but it speaks to something those of us who work in journalism and the blogosphere must think about daily.
On his blog, Gordon-Levitt expresses his gratitude for the opportunity to promote his work in GQ (have you heard about hist artist-cooperative production company hitRECord? It’s very cool), but calls to task the author for her portrayal of his brother, who passed away in 2010:
I’m writing this because I have a problem with what their article says about my brother. I’ll be honest, it really made me feel terrible. Here’s a quote:
‘…the elder Gordon-Levitt died of an alleged drug overdose in 2010. “It was an accident” is all Joe will say about that.’
Levitt-Gordon’s appeal reminds me of the conversations we have here at The Good Men Project about how we want to shift focus off of the negative portrayals of men in the media, and onto the good works men are doing every day. Not just the big, obvious things like hero bus driver Stephen St. Bernard who caught an Autistic child who fell from a 3rd story window, but the everyday heroics of men who are just plain ol’ good. Like Andy Hinds who works his ass off to raise his two daughters as a primary parenting dad, John Manchester who fulfilled his father’s wish to have his children build him a casket when he died, or Shawn Maxam who honors his late brother daily by living a good and full life while reflecting upon growing up poor, black, male and mentally ill in America…
It’s not that we never talk about the bad. It’s just that we want to do something different. We know nobody’s perfect… Bad things happen, people screw up. We had a great series of stories from John Taylor about his affair and the subsequent (and in-progress) rebuilding of his marriage. We want to talk about the goodness that remains despite the complications of life as human beings.
It occurred to me how important this was during the Kony 2012 blow up. The story of Joseph Konyis important: the murders, ethnic cleansing, mass rapes, the enslavement of young boys into war. We featured the video, and we talked about the questions others were raising about the organization that produced the video, Invisible Children.
But when news broke that the spokesperson and host of the Kony 2012 video was having some sort of emotional issues, Lisa Hickey and I decided we wouldn’t cover that aspect of this story.
Because what does it matter? Does it affect you or I? Does a stumble on behalf of the face of the charity affect the campaign to bring Joseph Kony to justice? No. The man was struggling, and we felt that we wouldn’t be making the world any better by stamping our names on the exploitation of his struggles, especially in the absence of any explanation on his part (at the time) as to why he was having a hard time. I’m glad we made that decision.
As journalists (or bloggers), we have two objectives: First, to report what’s happening in the world and frame it in a way that progresses our goals. Second, to sell our product. GQ has the objective to sell magazines, I have the objective to sell page views to all of you. I chew on pencils and think about what will make the best headline. I cut out unnecessary paragraphs to get to the meat of the story. As an editor sometimes I go too far, sometimes not far enough.
And so I’m moved by Gordon-Levitt’s appeal on behalf of his family. Dan was Joe’s brother and his parents’ son. He was a little boy who grew up and did great things, and naughty things, and average things. I didn’t know him, I don’t know the Gordon-Levitt family, but I know humans enough to say that nobody is all-good or all-bad, but that our love for them, by nature, is good.
Gordon-Levitt’s plea includes this:
I asked the writer not to dwell on how he died, I did say quite a bit about how he lived, and how much he means to me. Dan was a brightly positive, genuinely caring, and brilliantly inspiring person, and I liked the idea of such a wide readership learning about him.
If you’ve ever lost someone, I don’t care how or why, that’s ultimately what you want. My mom (whose father died when she was a teen) says that if you don’t talk about and remember the person you lost, then they’re truly gone. I tell my kids whatever I can about their grandmother who died when they were babies. “Nana was amazing at growing roses, she almost had a magical touch with flowers,” or “Nana called you Boden-ushka because in Czech that means that you were her beloved.”
When our friend Robert died, we all wrote letters to his children. I told his then 5 year-old daughter about the day she was born, and how I watched her big giant daddy hold her in his arms and stare at her fingers. “She has the longest fingers, and the prettiest fingernails just like her mommy,” he said.
That’s what Joseph Gordon-Levitt wanted for his brother. For lots of people to know why Dan was great.
I don’t criticize the author for framing the story of Dan’s death as she did, as I can’t attest to the circumstances of their interview, but it reminds me of what matters in storytelling. It also serves as a reminder for me, as an editor, of our mission at The Good Men Project… To talk about men’s lives and the issues that impact men, and to offer men the opportunity to talk about what matters to them. For Gordon-Levitt it is his work and his brother’s legacy.
To Joseph Gordon-Levitt: we would love to learn more about your brother’s life and what he meant to those who knew him. And to our readers and our writers, we’d love to know more about your lives, and what matters to you.