Monday, September 29, 2008
So: while I am writing a long and terminally unwieldy piece which aims to set forth a postmodern theory of pornography (yes, I am doing this, may God have mercy on us all), it seems like a reasonable time to be catching up on books in the ever-growing and slightly bullshitty field of Masculinity Studies.
Specifically, I really wanted to read Guyland. The basic premise of the book seems sound: young middle-class white men are raised with a tremendous sense of entitlement, which is threatened by the successes of women and people of color in formerly all-white, all-male environments, and they are therefore retreating into all-white-boy societies where they can act out a particularly virulent and ugly strain of masculinity without actually taking on any responsibilities or having their perceived superiority challenged in any meaningful way? Yes! Okay! Tell me more!
Fifty pages into the book, however, I regret to say that it is not very rewarding. The reasons for this are twofold: first, Michael Kimmel is a horrible writer, and second, he does not get the young people, which would be fine - does anyone ever get the young people, really? - except that it renders his thoughts about youth culture quite suspect. See this:
You can find them in New York’s Murray Hill, or Silver Lake and Echo Park in Los Angeles, Houston’s Midtown, or Atlanta’s Buckhead district, sipping their mocha lattes in the local Starbucks… They are the “friendsters” with their wi-fi computers looking for love, friendship, or hookups, or on monster.com looking for next month’s job.
The kids today, with their fancy coffees and their Internet and their baggy pants! It is crazy, I am telling you. And their music?
… is some of the angriest music ever made. Nearly four out of every five gangsta rap CDs are bought by suburban white guys. It is not just the “boys in the hood” who are a “menace to society.” It’s the boys in the “burbs.”
OH GOD MAKE IT STOP MAKE IT STOPPPPPPPPP.
Yet it does not stop. As far as I can see, the writing remains precisely this terrible throughout the entire book.
There's also the fact that Kimmel views terminal boyhood (which is, I can confirm, a very real thing with the dudes today) as an escape from the "responsibilities" of manhood, by which he chiefly seems to mean that these men are not angling for high-powered corporate jobs and getting married at twenty-one. I find that this is actually the least annoying thing about contemporary dudes - the conflation of manhood with social power and the possession of a wife was one of the chief targets of second-wave feminism - and Kimmel's constant insistence that all of these men need to "grow up and settle down" (and stop "hooking up," a phrase which he uses constantly and with the prim, scandalized air of an old schoolmarm) is fairly grating. Yes, there are men who can only ever hook up, men who shy away from the word "girlfriend" as from a branding iron, men for whom an equitable and serious relationship with a woman seems akin to hacking one's balls off with a dull knife and putting them up for sale on eBay, and these men, my friends, these men are assholes - yet, when Kimmel's exploring how male sexual entitlement can lead to rape, it would perhaps benefit his study if he did not speak about consensual, casual sex in the same breath as if it were the same thing.
This is not to say that the book is entirely worthless. If you're looking for an Anatomy of the American Douchebag, this might be not be the worst place to start. It just has the same problem as a lot of social research: the person making the study aims to explain the culture at hand without absorbing it, and therefore ends by concluding that these people are freaks, so that while the actual behavioral patterns and insider perspectives can be enlightening, the framing narrative carries a strong whiff of normative crap. That problem is compounded, in this case, by hugely, spectacularly, breathtakingly bad prose.
Anyway, it's all worth it for this:
Guyland now even has its own literature… in such recent novels as Booty Nomad by Scott Mebus, Love Monkey by Kyle Smith, and the widely praised Indecision by Ben Kunkel.
This is transcendence. There can be no greater joy in this world. My entire life up to this point has been justified, and I know now why I was born - for I have seen Indecision referenced in the same sentence as Booty Nomad.
Actually, wasn't Booty Nomad the original title of Indecision? Either way, it would work.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Item #1: Capturing The Thought Processes and Fantasy Lives of Adolescent Girls: "Smoking Marlboros with Marisol, we planned our escape to New York City. We would wait till we were sixteen and had tits and were pretty, because the only way we could think to make money was to pose for Playboy. It was such a dirty thing, we figured not many girls would do it. Playboy would be desperate for models, and happy to have us. Me and Marisol would shave our heads into tall perfect Mohawks that stretched to the sky like the tall New York buildings. We would befriend Billy Idol. We had this plan, we would find out where he lived, ring his bell and pass out on his doorstep. He couldn't leave two unconscious girls on his doorstep. He would have to carry us inside, touch us, lay us on his furniture, and when we came to, he would see what wild young things we were and he would want to be our boyfriend."
Item #2: Embedding Rather Complicated Critiques in Stories About Having a Bad Trip at Lollapalooza: "The panic was not subsiding, it was growing, and I realized that it was only the beginning. I had just eaten the stuff, it hadn't even fully dissolved, more and more of it would be released into my bloodstream and I would lose my mind. That's what would happen. I was an idiot. I took this drug I knew nothing about, a drug that affects your brain, and like a fool I just ate it and now I would go mad. I was overcome with grief... Up on stage Ice-T was yelling at the audience. I say... what good is a beautiful girl if the bitch don't fuck?! Oh no. He said it again. What good is a beautiful girl... IF THE BITCH DON'T FUCK, chanted frat row, the millions of white boys with baseball caps cheering Ice-T with their fists in the air, over and over. Oh god, I wanted to die. Ice-T was evil. I was on drugs and he was the devil. I looked over at Clive. That's not cool, he said uncomfortably. Duh, Clive."
Item #3: Writing About Sex Work in a Way That Buys Into Neither the Third-Wave "Empowerment" Bullshit or the Second-Wave "Unenlightened Victims" Crap, Making It Clear That the Real Mind-Fuck of It, the Part That Can Screw You Up, Is the Way It Sheds Light Onto Men's Secret Lives and the Relationships Between Men and Women in the "Normal," Outside World: "It was a whirlwind, a blur. A landscape of heaving chests, scribbled with hair and hung with belly, corrugated with ribs. Each man astounded me, again and again, with his complete obliviousness to my hate and my absence. I was not there, except when a spool of rage would suddenly unfurl itself and shake me... It's True, I thought. Everything You Hear About Men. Your Worst Fears, All Of It, It's True. I lay back in a random bed and felt strangely vindicated. I thought about Ma, about all of the good women out there with their men, how their closeness to them sheltered them somehow from reality. How only the ruined girls knew, only the whores and the dykes and the crazy women, only they knew what this world was really like. I was slobbered on, my tits slick and spitty. I was sore."
Seriously: this looks so easy, and it's not. Whenever I give a friend a Michelle Tea book (something I do often), she's either scandalized by all the queer sex and/or sex work, in which case I start to feel uncomfortable around that person and regret giving her the book, or she says something like "this reminds me of my diaries," which is a feeling I also share, but which can be deceptive, because the genius of Michelle Tea lies in the fact that no matter who you are, she can make you feel as if you're reading from your own diary.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
I guess they thought it implied that being lesbian was a "tragedy" or something? I don't know where they got that. Here, Jim Beam explains the ad's rich subtext:
In 'The Tragedy' TVC a beautiful girl who is dreamily attractive to any man turns out not to be attracted to men at all, but instead prefers other women. To most men this is the ultimate tragedy, in the same way that Jim Beam is the ultimate bourbon.
The Board then considered whether the advertisement breached Section 2.1 of the Code dealing with discrimination and vilification... the label at the end, "The Tragedy," was not intended to mean that it was a tragedy generally for women to be lesbians, but that such an attractive woman was not available to heterosexual men.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Professor Derek Abbott and his team from the University of Adelaide in South Australia have invented the first remote control key fob that allows men to control a valve that can switch their sperm flow on and off as required.The size of half a rice grain, the "fertility control micro-valve" is injected by a doctor into the vas deferens, the duct that carries sperm from the testes, a process that needs only a local anaesthetic. The valve can then open and close to control sperm flow out of the body.
But I didn't let that stop me! Here is a brief survey, composed entirely of books that I can name off the top of my head.
Survey #1: Books Which Center On Female Protagonist's Sexual Awakening & Consequent Adultery - Does She Die?*Then I read Revolutionary Road. While we are on the subject of paternal anxieties and gory lady deaths: oh, my sweet Jesus, this book has them. If I had to compose a one-act play about Revolutionary Road, which completely oversimplified its plot, it would go as follows:
Madam Bovary (1856) - She dies.
Anna Karenina (1877?) - She dies.
The Awakening (1899) - She dies.
Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928) - She does not die! She learns the joy of submitting to an outdoorsman! Welcome to the twentieth century.
FRANK: We live in the 1950s! We are under great pressure to conform.The good news is that this play totally has a chance of being optioned for the screen now, because Hollywood is finally making Revolutionary Road: The Movie. Its casting - which I learned just last night - is so amazing that I can't even begin to wrap my mind around it. Which leads us to Survey #2:
APRIL: Bad news: I want an abortion.
FRANK: No, you totally can't have one, because it's my child too!
APRIL: I guess I won't do it, then.
FRANK: Wait - I forgot that I hate you!
APRIL: Truly, our marriage is a sham. Life in the suburbs has killed our spirits! I'm going to abort myself now.
THE NEIGHBORS: Isn't it a shame that April Wheeler died?
Survey #2: Movies In Which Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet Play a Couple Struggling With the Social Constraints of Their Time - Does One of Them Die? If Yes, How?
Titanic (1998) - Yes, there is a shipwreck.
Revolutionary Road (????) - Yes, their marriage is a loveless wreck to which death would be preferable, and also Kate Winslet bleeds out through her crotch.
*Any additions to this list are welcome. I've ruled out Tess of the D'Urbervilles (Tess is raped, and later becomes a kept woman to survive - she's never after her own pleasure, although she does in fact die), and Wuthering Heights (spiritual infidelity, but no sex, although she is quite vocally dead throughout most of the book).
Monday, September 22, 2008
So: there is a study which states that men with "traditional" views on gender earn more than men with egalitarian views. Surprise! (By the way, I love the euphemistic use of "traditional" rather than "sexist." Like, if I burned a woman to death because I thought she'd been blighting my crops with her menstrual blood, that wouldn't be a witch hunt - that would be "traditional agriculture.") Here, the authors of the study, Livingston and Judge, struggle to explain this puzzling new phenomenon:
"It could be that traditional men are hypercompetitive salary negotiators -- the Donald Trump prototype, perhaps," Judge said. "It could be on the employer side that, subconsciously, the men who are egalitarian are seen as effete."
Oh, "effete!" Yes, that's probably it: employers only give raises to sexist men because non-sexist dudes are giant pussies. By Jove, Science, you've done it again!
Anyway, it's probably true that sexist men are rewarded more than non-sexist men (and all women) for their work. It might even be true that sexist dudes are super-powered ultra-negotiators who earn higher salaries because of their manly fortitude, although I really doubt it. However, it really seems not at all groundbreaking to point out that the people who benefit most from sexism are the people most invested in preserving it. Call me an idealist, but I generally think that a study should, if at all possible, be slightly more enlightening than an average episode of Mad Men.
Friday, September 19, 2008
... ha, ha, they'd be fat! Oh, and poor. They probably wouldn't have very good record collections, either. You'd be all like, "the new Silver Jews record really isn't very good," and they'd be like, "I don't care, because our cultures are very different, yet in the upcoming election American adults from all walks of life will be voting in (one hopes) the belief that they can elect a politician who will promote the 'best interests of this country,' although widespread use of divisive culture-war rhetoric has made it impossible to even conceive of Americans as having a common interest to which their government can attend. Corn dog?"