No. No. No. Rob Gordon CANNOT be a woman

It was bad enough to make Rob an American. But that, at least, WORKED.

It was bad enough to make Rob an American. But that, at least, WORKED.

OK, I’m a little upset now.

I sort of heard on the radio this morning that Nick Hornby was going to be on Fresh Air tonight. I got a little excited about that, being such a huge fan of High Fidelity and all.

So I went looking to confirm what I’d heard. And I ran across this.

It seems that “High Fidelity” is being rebooted for Hulu. And in this version, Rob is female.

No. Way.

Why do I love High Fidelity? Well, for one thing, it’s hilarious. And the pop culture stuff is fun, especially the Top Five lists. But those aren’t the reasons why I think it’s one of the most profound books written by a living author.

My reverence for the work stems from the fact that no one else has ever come close to expressing something essential about the relationships between men and women in the slice of history in which I have lived and had my being. In other words, it is to my time what Jane Austen’s work was to hers.

Rob’s problem — an inability to see that what is truly important in life is our relationships with other human beings — takes a form that is particular to young (and, perhaps, old) males in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Rob cares about, and devotes most of his mental and spiritual energy to, pop culture. Specifically pop music, but movies and other manifestations as well.

It’s a problem that feeds on itself when similarly emotionally stunted young males gather, such as when Rob, Dick and Barry stand about in the usually empty record store arguing about their Top Five lists — while women are (presumably, since we don’t see them in this venue) off somewhere actually living life.

That’s the problem he has in his relationship with his typically far more emotionally mature girlfriend Laura.

SPOILER ALERT: One incident in the book illustrates the dichotomy beautifully. After their spectacular breakup (which finally was so painful that finally makes Rob’s Top Five list of worst splits), Rob and Laura are trying to make a go of it again, and whether they will succeed remains very much in doubt — on account of, you know, Rob.

They go to have dinner with some friends of Laura’s, a couple Rob doesn’t know. During the initial stages of the evening, Rob is really impressed. He likes these people. Laura observes this.

Then, when the couple is out of the room, Laura urges Rob to indulge his habit of inspecting his hosts’ record collection. And he is appalled. Their taste, in his exquisitely refined opinion, is horrible.

Laura knew this would be his reaction. And she watches to see if there will be an epiphany.

There sort of is, as Rob admits, but only to himself:

… that maybe, given the right set of peculiar, freakish, probably unrepeatable circumstances, it’s not what you like but what you’re like that’s important. I’m not going to be the one who explains to Barry how this might happen, though.

And feckless Rob, who is feckless in a particularly male sort of way, takes a tiny step toward maturity. But grumbles about it, accusing Laura: “You did that deliberately,” he says on the way home. “You knew all along I’d like them. It was a trick.”

It’s not that every male is like Rob, and every female like Laura. But the conflict between them, the gap between them, was colored by an essential difference that stated impressively true things about the relationships and differences between men and women.

Listen, sometimes it’s OK to change the gender of a character. It worked in the TV adaptation of The Night Manager, when Jonathan Pine’s case officer — who was a man in the book — is played by Olivia Colman. There were other changes that didn’t work, but that one was a great move. It gave the case officer/agent relationship an extra something that it didn’t have in the book.

But that book wasn’t trying to say something deep and true about the relations between men and women, and ways in which they are different.

High Fidelity was. (Actually, I don’t know that Hornby was trying to do all that, but he did. When I recommend the book to friends, I always describe it in those terms. That’s what’s impressive about it.)

I’ll try watching it, if it’s on the level of Hulu that I can get. (Some things, including some things I’d really like to see, aren’t.) But I suspect I’m not going to like it. It was a big enough leap that the original movie made the characters American instead of English. But it still worked because American males can be just as stunted as British ones, and in the same ways.

But with this change, that remains to be seen.

11 thoughts on “No. No. No. Rob Gordon CANNOT be a woman

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    By the way, when I say, “no one else has ever come close to expressing something essential about the relationships between men and women,” I may not be expressing myself well.

    I mean that no one else has expressed this particular difference — a particular way in which so many men are stunted, and therefor have trouble rising to mature relationships with women — quite so eloquently.

    Others may have expressed other profound things about these relationships. I mean to take nothing away from them.

    Just as I mean to take nothing away from this young actress, or from women in general, when I observe that Hornby was describing a particularly masculine form of dysfunction.

    If any woman is insulted by my saying they tend not to be messed up in this particular way, well, I don’t know what to say…

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    And yes, I’m a little obsessed about this book. Therefore, I will assert my opinions regarding it with all the disproportionate vehemence that Rob, Dick and Barry devoted to their Top Five lists.

    How obsessed? Well, how about the time I went on a quest across London to find the location of Championship Vinyl, the fictional record store in the book?

    I got up while my mature, sane wife was still sleeping, on our last day in town, and made my way on the Tube — changing trains two or three times, to make my way to Islington. And my quest was successful — at least no one can say it wasn’t.

    My adventure was even immortalized by another, hyperlocal blog, which said my discovery “proves conclusively that it’s on the southern stretch of the Hornsey Road…”

  3. Bryan Caskey

    I don’t think I will be so quick to agree. I see where you are coming from and as a guy, I agree with a vast majority of the broader points you make with regard to Rob and his relationships.

    However, ladies do have their issues, their hangups, their rejections. It *could* work to switch the roles.

    I’m not saying it will, but it could work. I’m open to it. Heck, I *hope* it works. It could be a nice remake if done right.

    And I usually am not happy with remakes. Sometimes, a movie belongs in it’s own time. Moving it forward and remaking it kills off the spark that made the original one great.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Ditto. Especially when the original was great.

      Even though American, Cusack perfectly embodied Rob. Everyone knows that Jack Black WAS Barry. And while people overlook it, Dick was pretty perfect, too.

      It just WORKED, and communicated the essence of the book very well. Why mess with it?

      In fact, I’m trying to think of a remake that I liked, of any kind.

      Seriously, folks — can anyone think of a remake that was better than the original? And if not better, what’s the point?

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        On that subject — I learned something recently from Disney+, which I signed up for because for some reason, Verizon was providing it for free.

        I had no idea that “Swiss Family Robinson” — the one with John Mills, and Dano from Hawaii Five-O — was a remake. There was an earlier, darker version in which Thomas Mitchell (Uncle Billy in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and Scarlett O’Hara’s father) was the father. It was interesting, but hardly the crowd-pleasing Disney version I loved as a kid (how can you beat fighting pirates with hand grenades made out of coconuts?).

        Of course, a remake of THAT was “Lost in Space” (which itself has been remade, of course). It was based on a comic book that was originally titled “Space Family Robinson.” I think I had the first issue, although I’m not sure, because my comics are now long gone…

        1. Scout

          I like the Netflix redo of Lost in Space alot and I think better than the original, though I only have the vaguest impression of the original from seeing occasional random reruns in the 70’s when I was a kid. The three main elements I recall of the original was the super creepiness of Dr. Smith, Will, and the robot. They definitely maintained those central elements while creating an interesting backstory to connect those dots. And, interestingly, they made Dr. Smith a woman in the remake.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Yes, and they used an actress with a knack for creepiness — Parker Posey. Although you know what? Until I looked it up just now, I thought it was another actress known for that quality — Sarah Clarke. (It’s been a while since I watched it.)

            They kind of look alike, and they both have a certain spooky edge to them.

            As for the original “Lost in Space” — today, you’d laugh at the awful production values.

            It was silly, but I enjoyed it when I was 11 years old.

            Frankly, I had trouble getting into the new series, and stopped watching after a few episodes.

            It bothered me that the Robinsons weren’t alone — they were part of a large expedition. It increased the dramatic possibilities, of course, but took away that “we are alone” feeling…

            Speaking of the original Dr. Smith — he literally stole the show. I’ve read there was some resentment on the part of Guy Williams and June Lockhart — Mr. and Mrs. Robinson — because they thought they would be the stars, but eventually (responding to fans) the show became about Dr. Smith and the Robot.

            The Robinsons were the only “name” actors on the show when it started. June Lockhart was from Lassie, and Guy Williams was, after all, Zorro! How do you upstage Zorro? Well, Dr. Smith did…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I’ve never seen either, but it’s hard for me to believe anyone is better than Steve McQueen in anything.

      Wait… If there’s about to be reboot of “Wanted Dead or Alive” with a female lead (I guess she’d be called “Tish Randall”), just don’t tell me….

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