If you’re a J.D. Vance fan and live in Ohio, the state where he is running for Senate, you’re apparently one in a million. On Sunday, Slate published an extensive piece on Vance’s perplexing candidacy and his nonexistent voter base. The question at the center of the piece is exactly what I ask myself regarding anyone running for any political office, ever: Why is he doing this?
Most politicians will list uninspired reasons like “duty,” “innovation,” “tradition,” etc., etc. Vance’s impetus? To get back at the elite media critics who downvoted Hillbilly Elegy on RottenTomatoes.com and shat on it in reviews, despite the film having a strong audience score.
Based on Vance’s memoir of the same name, the Netflix movie considers three generations of Vance’s Appalachian family alongside the country’s post-industrial failing of rural Americans. The success of the book caused Vance to pivot from successful venture capitalist to successful conservative pundit who understands “real America.” Despite the movie receiving positive reviews from audiences, the negative reviews from “snobby critics” were the “last straw” for Vance, his Yale law school friend (LOL) told the Washington Post in February. That was clearly all the evidence he needed to declare the coastal glitterati out of touch with the God-fearing American proletariat who leave honest, noble feedback on the movie review aggregation site. It’s worth mentioning that review discrepancies on the site are fairly common.
The deathblow to the ego of receiving middling movie reviews was clearly significant enough that it caused Vance to want to change careers and entire personalities, now posing as a MAGA guy to claw his way into real power. Prior to that last straw, previous aggravations included, according to Slate, “having [to wear] a fashionably trim suit, making small talk with [law] partners, knowing which order to use silverware in at a fancy meal” and having a fellow Yalie not fully appreciate Cracker Barrel. I can sympathize. Those are all frustrating and empty cultural decorums that ultimately just signify you went to cotillion. But seeking revenge against receiving a poor Rotten Tomatoes score? You’ve lost me, Vance.
Currently, Hillbilly Elegy holds a “Rotten” 25 percent on the site’s tomatometer from professional film critics, who Vance must assume wrote their reviews on the screened-in veranda of their Martha’s Vineyard estate. The audience, composed in Vance’s mind of blue-collar workers taking time on their allotted union lunch break to rate a film starring Glen Close, gave the movie a “Fresh” 82 percent rating. In actuality, the makeup of critics on the site are vetted professionals who range from podcast hosts to Youtubers to local newspaper reporters—a group of people banded together more by their love of endlessly talking than by their elite socioeconomic class. A brief scan of the reviews by critics reveals critiques of the acting and directing more than the plot itself. “We should expect more from all involved parties but [Amy] Adams, in particular, is painfully bad in one of the worst ‘Oscar grabs gone wrong’ in recent memory,” writes critic Kent Garrison. (Apologies for throwing Adams’ normally refreshing acting skills under the bus to make my point about Vance’s misguided anger.)
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Corner-office conservatives courting the working class is as American as our obsession with the rags-to-riches fairy tale, a tale which Vance managed to live out and exploit. His memoir grapples with straddling the opposing worlds of the Ivy Leagues and kudzu-strangled hollers. Despite his humble Appalachian beginnings, Vance, as the Slate piece points out, fits in pretty comfortably alongside the liberal elite he’s so hell bent on distancing himself from. He can take his rage against elitist Rotten Tomatoes critics all the way to the Capitol, but I would argue that you might not be a redneck if your novel topped the New York Times bestseller list, was optioned by the most profitable streaming platform in the world, and nominated for an Academy Award.