Thursday, February 21, 2013

¿Por Qué?

A friend of mine posted this on Facebook yesterday, and I thought it let some interesting cats out of the bag, so to speak.

For pinche gabachos que no saben español, here's a rough translation:
The Girl: "Don't talk to him, baby, he's a NERD"
The Nerd: "Why do they prefer the dogs?" 

The Girl: "Hey, handsome, remember me?"
The Nerd: "THE NERD doesn't remember anybody, you."
The Girl: "Why can't I get a good man?"
The friend who shared this picture seemed to identify with the Nerd, which is funny because (with all due respect and lust) he's much more like the tattooed chulo.  He certainly can't complain that girls aren't interested in him.  But what I wondered as I looked at it was why the Nerd wants the bimbo. 

I put it too bluntlyI don't really mean to put the girl down, she's a human being too.  But if we're going to call Papi Chulo canalla (which must be related to canaille, defined by Webster as "riffraff, rabble, proletarian," then it's reasonable to ask why the Nerd is so interested in a girl of the same class.  Does he have fantasies of rescuing her, educating her, or has he thought that far ahead?  What does he imagine they'll talk about?  What kind of relationship will they have other than Owner and Trophy, and how proud he'll be to walk down the halls with her on his arm?  Lately I've read that Marilyn Monroe was personally much smarter than her screen persona, and while that's probably true (how could she not be?), I also wonder if it's more puffery of the kind that sought to tell me that Dan Quayle and George Bush were really closet intellectuals.  In any case, I doubt very much that Arthur Miller was interested in Monroe's mind: he wanted his own personal Sex Goddess, which is probably one reason why the marriage didn't last.  A sex goddess in the end is just another person.

Or a sex god: If the Nerd were gay, chances are he'd be pursuing the Chulo himself, and then wondering why he couldn't find a nice guy.  In the real world the Chulo and the Nerd might be having it off in the back of a car somewhere, in return for the Nerd doing the Chulo's term papers.  That's actually a more realistic basis for a relationship, to my mind: it has room for mutual respect and even affection.  But the Nerd isn't really interested in the Girl as a person: he wants her on his arm, to impress the other guys with his manhood.  This is the paradigmatic high school pattern anyway: a few golden kids rule the school as chief players in the fantasies of some of the other kids, and even more of the teachers and administration, until they flame out at graduation or soon after.  

As Judith Martin (aka Miss Manners) put it, in each school there will be a few lucky children with this charisma.
All the girls promptly fall in love with the boy who has this air, and all of the boys fall in love with the girl who does.  Just as automatically, they all decide that they despise all the other members of the loved one's sex, most especially those with the bad taste to admire their unworthy selves.  (...There is no such thing as a thirteen-year-old whose affections have been aroused by the charm of vulnerability.)
As I've pointed out before, I was a thirteen-year-old whose affections could be aroused by the charm of vulnerability; I don't believe I'm unique.  Other kids in my school were dating and even finding their eventual spouses without being Alphas.  When I look back at the boys I was attracted to in those days, I don't recognize any of them as the kind of boys I should, according to Martin, have wanted.  They were a motley bunch, blue-collar to working-class, a variety of looks and builds.  None were star athletes: the one closest to that type was kind of sexy (as far as a fifteen-year-old virgin could tell), but such an asshole that I never had much interest in him.  And I never got to do anything about my attractions until I was three years out of high school, at college; I've never actually laid hands on anyone I went to high school with.
... If you indulge in your inclination to insult those who look soulfully up to you, it will come back to haunt you.  The reason is that while it is extremely common for the desirability of a person to change radically after his early adolescence -- sometimes during it, from one year to the next -- everyone goes through life with a vivid memory of insults and kindnesses (if any) experienced when very young.  The popular boy or girl for whom you lusted from afar may live to bore you silly, which is an excellent reason against early marriage, but the beautiful creature you slighted when she had pimples or he stuttered will be only to pleased to break your heart for you when it gets big.  And that, dear children, is why we must learn to be polite to others.*
A timeless morality that, and something like it underlies the cartoon above.  But it's not quite the whole story.  Martin is perpetuating a myth that has been accepted even by academic students of human behavior: that a hierarchy of Cool organizes all adolescents.  But as Barrie Thorne showed in her Gender Play (Rutgers, 1993), this "Big Man Bias" in research on boys covers only part of any given cohort (97ff). Male researchers, especially, tend to gravitate to the Alphas in a school: "I was there to do a study not to be a friend to those who had no friends" sniffed one (quoted in Thorne, 99).  Martin also assumes that this jostling for status drives everyone in a community, an assumption belied by her acknowledgment that there are kids "with the bad taste to admire their [i.e., the Alpha wannabes'] unworthy selves."  On her assumptions, that shouldn't be happening: all eyes should be fixed on the Heathers at this stage of life.  Obviously, not all are.  Some of them are already too busy growing up to be much concerned with the budding power brokers among their peers.

This, I suspect, is a matter of temperament, not of intelligence. To (I admit) overinterpret the second panel wildly, not only does the Nerd still cling to seething resentment because a high school girl snubbed him years ago, he's sold himself out to the pursuit of money.  What kind of women does he pursue now?  Probably what Cynthia Heimel once called "Professional Girls," the high-maintenance women that rich and powerful men compete for and pass around.  (Oh, not only rich and powerful men: I used to clash online with a right-wing militarist whose chief boast in life was that he'd been married to a "former Beauty Queen."  Of course he was bitter that she'd exacted maintenance in the divorce, but he still waved around his achievement at every opportunity: Hey, everybody!  I used to be married to a Beauty Queen!)  He lets other men, rather than his own desires and interests, set his standards -- though maybe being envied by other men is more important to him than interacting with women as people.  And he's probably still complaining indignantly that women don't appreciate him for who he really is, just for his money and status.  (If he's into men, their male equivalents will dominate his love life.  I gather that such a milieu gave us Ira Sachs's recent film Leave the Lights On, and Jonathan Galassi's book of poems Left-Handed.)

This post was actually headed in another specific direction; I'll pick up the thread in another post.

* Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, Freshly Updated (Norton, 2005), 329.