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Faint Praise.

25 Nov

I’m posting this as I leave for a wedding.

As I depart, bogey perversity insists I ask you, Who is Don Draper? 

This was the question that inspired me to read Barbara Ehrenreich’s The Hearts of Men. Don Draper, enigmatic and alone, is the postmodern man from your worst fantasy. Still predatory, no longer derogatory.

This was the man I went to find in Ms Ehrenreich’s book.

And failed. Long Live Dream Draper.

The Hearts of Men, a story of mounting perfidy, describes the genesis and evolution of the “male revolt”. In it, she draws a line from  the ‘grey flannel’ playboys to the punks of the early ‘80s.

In all of them, aspects of the Draper abide. Like the grey-flannels, he has an ideal housewife; like the Beats he’s a prole. Like the Hef, his appetite is legendary.

E pluribus, unum.

Hearts of Men

Chloé-Poizat; "mes yeux distendus"

Our telly likes its women fertile and undemanding. Across genre and trope and theme,  girls are penalised for challenging chromosomes. Women are killed cos they’re pregnant, cos they’re not, cos they’re pregnant with the wrong sort of baby.  There is even a soap imploring us to stay away from this cruel country.  Consider, for a sampling:

SAAS BINA SASURAL 

Hic sunt the Toasty, arriving in a household of seven men. A solid bahu, Toasty proceeds to live up to her lovely name. She quits her job, ingratiates her way into everyone’s confidence, discovers a Devastating Secret: an earlier bahu stormed out. Wretched predecessor now divorcing Family.

PAVITRA RISHTA. 

I fled through Pavitra Rishta in forty two minutes. Here is the Saas. There is the other saas rescuing her daughter from abuse.

Moral Turmoil.  Mortal Toil.  More Turmoil. Boy and Girl elope…. I give up.

Pavitra Rishta frames the dominant fantasy of popular soaps. Women exist to ‘knit Families together’.  All their dreams and marginal rebellions are doomed to the devil’s treadmill. Keep your head down, it counsels, as you negotiate imposed boundaries.  Obey, don’t reason. Don’t think, smile!

Her family, pure-bahu concludes after each righteous day, is the sole reason for her sustenance. To separate any woman from her (wedded) Family is a theft of her soul, her identity, her reflection in the mirror. Without her husband, the fabric of her existence would melt away — she would be worse than worthless, she would be wasted.

Why I Sing My Blues. 

Faint Praise.

Size isn’t everything. It’s what you do

That matters, darling, and you do it quite well

In some respects. Credit where credit’s due –

You work, you’re literate, you rarely smell.

Small men can be aggressive, people say,

But you are often genial and kind,

As long as you can have things all your way

And I comply, and do not speak my mind.

You look all right. I’ve never been disgusted

By paunchiness. Who wants some skinny youth?

My friends have warned me that you can’t be trusted

But I protest I’ve heard you tell the truth.

Nobody’s perfect. Now and then, my pet,

You’re almost human. You could make it yet.

*

Semper Fidelis. 

The Mantle of the Vicious Bitch

8 Mar

I’ve been in television hibernation this past month, and it took the centenary of women’s day to draw me out. I’ve always been iffy on the subject of women’s day — why, precisely, are we celebrating half of humanity? I guess any publicity- look, we exist- is better than none.

Here I am. Watch me exult.

The excuse for my telly fest (which concluded last week) was my contribution to Popmatters’ Whedon retrospective, which will go up later this month on bogey. The inspiration for my little rant below was Darla, that first modern working girl.  For a feminist writer, Whedon is uniformly unkind in doling out her fate, though perhaps after 500 years of killing she was due some dying. Multiple times, even.  Darla, Angel’s sire,  is the vampire we meet in the first scene of Buffy. Dusted by Angel in season one, she is revived by Wolfram and Hart three years later, tormented in assorted ways (including one ill-fated pregnancy) until she finally kills herself. Amazing how often that happens in Angel: women sacrificing self for spawn. Though I guess Illyria is not, strictly speaking, spawn.

My title, for whedon-trivia, is borrowed off Cordy, from my favourite Angel episode. This would be Billy, in which Lilah kills her misogynist client. What can I say? Lilah’s got me on my knees. Remember when she gives Wesley The Divine Comedy before he goes all dark and they get all horny? In the original Tuscan, too, so classy and clever, which almost made me want to be a lawyer again.

Billy, though, is in close competition with Guise will be Guise, where Wesley impersonates Angel while the original and a fake swami have the following conversation:

Magev:  “You’re deeply ambivalent.”
Angel:  “Yeah, well, I am and I’m not.”
Magev:  “You need to get over her. – Okay, what does she [Darla] look like?”
Angel:  “She’s beautiful. – Small, blonde…”
Magev:  “Right.  So here’s what you do.  You go out and find yourself some small, blonde thing.  You bed her, you love her, you treat her like crap, you break her heart.  You and your inner demon will thank me, I promise.”

 

 

And, in spirit with these serendipitous times, a poem I found on Spaniard in the Works,

 

Chewing slowly,

Only after I’d eaten

My grandmother,

Mother,

Son-in-law,

Two brothers-in-law,

And father-in-law

(His big family included)

In that order,

And had for dessert

The town’s inhabitants,

 

Did I find, says Kabir,

The beloved that I’ve become

One with

 

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Lady Dragon.

10 Oct

This is the second of the mylaw.net articles on the American midterms. As usual, please head thither for links to the articles on which my analysis is based- I do believe in credit, but setting up two sets of hyperlinks is my idea of too much work. Unless I have directly quoted from the article, or otherwise think you cannot live without reading it, I have omitted the reference in this version of the essay.

I’m still glad I supported Obama over Hillary Clinton. If Hillary had won the election, every single day would be a festival of misogyny. We would hear constantly about her voice, her laugh, her wrinkles, her marriage and what a heartless, evil bitch she is for doing something – whatever! – men have done since the Stone Age. Each week would bring its quotient of pieces by fancy women writers explaining why they were right not to have liked her in the first place. Liberal pundits would blame her for discouraging the armies of hope and change, for bringing back the same-old same-old cronies and advisers, for letting healthcare reform get bogged down in inside deals, for failing to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan – which would be attributed to her being a woman and needing to show toughness – for cozying up to Wall Street, deferring to the Republicans and ignoring the cries of the people. In other words, for doing pretty much what Obama is doing. This way I get to think, Whew, at least you can’t blame this on a woman.

Whatever Happened to Candidate Obama? Katha Pollitt.

One day in 2008, we all woke up to the news that the long-suffering Hilary Clinton was capable of such gymnastics as public weeping. I am not now, and I certainly was not then, a news junkie. All the flap about Obama had passed me by entirely: wasn’t he the guy who declared his desire for the presidency on a talk show? I had assumed that Clinton was a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination, that she would probably win, and the world would trundle on heedless. Washington is united when it comes to ‘security’ wonks: Blackwater, for instance, was defended by a firm run by Clinton strategist Mark Penn. In the corner of the globe that most of us inhabit, that simple truth is often all that matters.

Yet here she was, whimpering, and the election was close to a year away. India’s Indira and Germany’s Angela, it appeared, didn’t translate into America’s Hillary.

That was the day I swallowed my pride and sought education from sundry politics nerds: the mystifying distinction between primaries and caucuses, conventions and their delegations; and how, exactly, did colleges get to elect the president of a country? Most began with an admirably concise answer to the first question: they’re both dogfights for the nomination. Unfortunately, I was then at the height of my elections-are-gimmicks-and-circuses phase (which I am yet to fully recover from); and there was the predictable flame-out before the conversation could turn to other foundations of American Civics 101. The profusion of talking heads obsessed with Ms. Clinton did, however, get me interested in the interplay between feminism and electoral politics: what, really, is the price worth paying for a woman in power?

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Robbing Women and Robing Brides

31 Jul

I was miserably sick this past week, for those of you who noticed the blog silence. Antibiotics are being consumed, the appetite is yet to revive, but migraines and blistered eyes no longer conspire to keep the laptop and I at odds. I even read a book last night and it wasn’t shady bed reading. Ok, so that lasted only for an hour before I abandoned it for the pleasures of Diana Wynne Jones, but one of the few joys of sickness is the amount of slush one is permitted to consume.

This is a tentative step back into the daily grind of political comment (however tangential) because I could no longer bear the whine of my stats chart as it plummeted to numbers it hadn’t seen since the early days of june . A friend forwarded me this excellent article, and it reminded me of another essay I was once called upon to present in class. Yet another nostalgia post, this one.

The Robing of the Bride, Max Ernst.

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The Step Between.

27 Jun

‘When Adam delved, and Eve span,
Who was then the gentleman?’

In and Out of Cipher.

but that was not History,
that was only faith,
and then each rock broke into its own nation;
then came the synod of flies,
then came the secretarial heron,
then came the bullfrog bellowing for a vote.
Derek Walcott,  from The Sea is History

Umberto Eco tells us there is a fate that links the historical novel to medieval topics, that our conflicts can be traced to the tumultuous, ongoing, break between the dark ages and ‘today’– the chugging engine of modernity.  We live, he claims, within a wave of the neo-medieval. The trick is to identify what brand of Middle-Ages is being traded, and Eco identifies ten variations upon the theme. Of the lot, he comes out in favour of the philological Middle-Ages, which “lack sublimity, thank God, and thus look ‘human’”. He would rejoice in Wolf Hall’s painstaking historiography.

If the medieval does haunt the modern, Eco himself fed our steady fascination. No one stalked the antecedents of modernity better than Eco in Name of the Rose or Baudolino.  And no one, Eco inclusive, has injected the modern as precisely into the feudal as Hilary Mantel in Wolf Hall. Mantel is aided by her choice of protagonist. A more modern man than Thomas Cromwell you would be hard-pressed to find in our postmodern, neo-medieval times. One might long for Fr. William’s lucidity while parsing the difference between Reginald Pole and Martin Luther, but he remains too enmeshed within the organisation of an earlier time to look through it as astutely as Mantel’s Cromwell does.

Plenty of critics have emphasised the confusion created by Mantel’s consistent use of the third person nominative to refer to Cromwell: there is only one ‘he’ in her novel. I found the device ingenious: substituting the omnipresent divine ‘Him’ with a personal ‘him’ as the driving feature of narrative is a splendid caption for the altering gestalt she captures.

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