Friday, June 6, 2008

Boy Culture Club

Thanks be to the Internet! Though I am far from the Fatherland, I can still follow events that trouble the patriarchy (and just about everything troubles the patriarchy).

Currently it appears that scrota are shrinking defensively from sea to shining sea because of the release of Sex and the City, now the top grossing film in the country. I mean, it beat out Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull at the box office – that’s unnatural and blasphemous. Here’s what Wajahat Ali wrote about it for Counterpunch:

Driving to the “Sex and the City: The Movie” premiere, I felt like Morgan Spurlock, the director of “Super Size Me” who foolishly consumed fast food for 30 days; a man voluntarily condemning himself to masochistic pain for sake of a cultural experiment. Even before entering, the publicity coordinator, who knows me and the other frequent movie critics, said, “Dude, you’re like one of 6 guys in the entire movie theatre.”

“Fantastic,” I replied sarcastically. Upon entering the theatre and surveying the audience, I realized he was incorrect. I was one of the 21 men out of the 250 highly giddy and anxious women. The air brimmed with suffocating excitable estrogen. As a heterosexual dude, I felt outnumbered, outgunned, and – like a midget on a NBA basketball court – displaced.

Strange, isn’t it? If I hadn’t learned better by now, I would expect that a straight man would be in hog heaven to find himself surrounded by 250 estrogen-crazed women, and almost no other males present. (Actually, women’s sexual desire is related to testosterone, just like men’s. Maybe that’s the problem?) I also would think that a straight man who professed to be mystified by women would be interested to know what women like, how they think, how they fantasize. But no. I think the key word for Mr. Ali is “displaced”: that is, what bothers him is that those 250 women weren’t paying attention to him, but to the movie up there on the screen.

Worse yet, they were really really rilly excited about that movie, even though no one’s head exploded, nobody got gutted with a chainsaw, there were no car chases, no sounds of weapons being prepped for firing (shik-SHIK-shik), no torture of the hero, no geysers of blood or any of the other essential components of a good movie. Instead the audience got excited about shoes, about outfits that probably cost more than the budget of your average Third World Nation, and “a gratuitous 4 minutes sequence where Carrie tries on designer wedding dresses … while naming their designers ultimately culminating with ‘Vivian Westwood,’ which I assumed from the audience reaction is ‘kind of a big deal.’” If the ladies had been salivating over, say, Q showing 007 all the kewl gadgets in his Aston Martin, or Ahnold hefting numerous pieces of lethal hardware, that would be totally normal. But wedding dresses? That is soooo gay. What will happen to America’s special effects prosthetics artists, the masters of exploding heads and blood geysers, if such movies take over?

Notice that Mr. Ali’s article appeared on Counterpunch, a left-wing website. The site’s co-editor Alexander Cockburn, like many Left men of his generation, never seems to have quite figured out feminism. I still remember his prolonged squabble with Lydia Sargent, one of the founders of Z magazine, during the first few years of its publication, over something I can no longer recall. What I do recall is that Cockburn showed his deep sensitivity to women by being photographed in bad drag, which is like showing your solidarity with African-Americans by being photographed in blackface. Which may explain why Mr. Ali’s very routine college-humor-mag piece turned up on a site that usually concentrates on weightier issues, like what a bitch Hillary Clinton is.*

If you want full-blown straight-boy hysteria, though, read the comments under Genevieve Koski’s Onion AV Club review of SATC. Not all of them qualify – in fact, quite a number of women weigh in on the film, which given its demographic is to be expected -- but the boys dominate, like:

RE: 2.5 Hours?

by Jeremy H

How much of that 2.5 hours features Cattrall's snatch?

7:31 AM Fri May 30, 2008


RE: These broads

they're old. but to quote another avc commenter whose name escapes me, look at the get-away sticks on that dame!

1:51 PM Sat May 31, 2008


Ah ok great

But we could please have a review by a male now and get over this nonsense?

4:55 PM Fri May 30, 2008

-- and there are even a couple of good snappy comebacks, like:

RE: Well-

Boo hoo! I was mistreated on an internet messageboard by strangers who likely are too lazy to wipe the cheeto dust from their Pavement t-shirts! Boo-hoo!

1:12 PM Fri May 30, 2008

But I digress. Most indicative is this exchange:

Why so much hate?

Is the talkback dominated by 20-year-old boys? If so, that makes sense. Older women are probably frightening to them. I am a 37-year-old straight man, married for 11 years, and I enjoyed the movie, and thought it was on par with the show; that is, fun and froth, and nothing more. This movie isn't a realistic portrayal of anyone; it's an escape, people. Let's not compare this to your mumblecore or whatever the fuck entertains you.

6:43 AM Sat May 31, 2008

RE: Why so much hate?

It's too late, Jim. The testicles are gone, only to have been replaced by a woeful, meaningless existence.

7:54 AM Sat May 31, 2008

… and so, predictably, on. I think SATC fan is probably right, except that it isn’t just older women who are frightening to these boys – all women are. As an evolutionist, I know that their fear is biologically based, but that doesn’t make it any less tiresome. Is it really comforting to believe that straight men are biologically programmed both to pursue sex with women and not to like them very much? Nervous joking about the fundamental incompatibility between men and women didn’t originate with second-wave feminism, they were a staple of the 1950s comedy I grew up on, and it’s much older than that.

It occurred to me years ago that if women did have radically different interests and aesthetics than males, that wouldn’t mean women’s interests deserved less respect than men’s. (Probably more, I’d say, since wardrobes are less destructive than high-tech weaponry.) Men would simply be disqualified from pronouncing any judgment on women’s culture (and vice versa, to be fair). It would be legitimate – necessary, in fact – to have women’s studies classes that were closed to men, since through no fault of their own, men couldn’t understand or appreciate women’s concerns. Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Sex and the City simply couldn’t be judged by the standards used for Thackeray, Lawrence, Rambo. People would have to learn to treat what they couldn’t understand with respect.

I don’t believe that this is true, of course. Human beings are fascinated by what’s different as often as they’re repulsed by it. It’s possible to go from hearing a foreign language as meaningless gibberish to understanding and speaking it. There’s no particular reason why a person must try to learn about and understand a culture from the other side of the world, about the Masai or the Japanese, but women aren’t an exotic and distant tribe that men will never meet – they live wherever men live, and straight men claim to love them and even to be fascinated by them.

Not that all men are phobic about women. For every man who decried Thelma and Louise as man-hating ultraviolence, there was another who liked it and understood it. The guys who freak out over chick flicks, who proudly flaunt their incomprehension of Sex and the City as Wajahat Ali did, are really revealing that they’re stupid and limited. They consider women’s interests to be trivial and incomprehensible in absolute terms, and believe (as that last comment from the Onion shows) that even to expose themselves to women’s culture is terminally emasculating. Even its presence on multiplex screens across the nation is a threat to their masculinity. It isn’t that they don’t know, it’s that they don’t want to know, and this is a point of pride with them, a demonstration of manhood in itself.

Does this mean that Sex and the City is really, somehow, good art after all? I don’t know, I haven’t seen the series or the movie and have little interest in seeing them. They just don’t seem to be the kind of mindless fluff I like. But who cares? The point is that Boy Culture hits don’t get publicized – and come to think of it, these professions of male cluelessness are part of the publicity machine – as manifestations of the inscrutable masculine mind. Nor do women go around claiming that their wombs will dry up because Transformers is showing at the multiplex. … But none of this is new, it’s just one more episode in the endless soap opera of male anxiety and insecurity. Manhood is in crisis; manhood has always been in crisis. Get over it.

*I do jest here. Counterpunch offers a lot of excellent journalism and commentary, and editors Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair are very good journalists. Like anyone,† Cockburn has some crucial blind spots, and I’m always interested in his work, even though he sometimes makes me cringe.

†Including me? Sure. What are my crucial blind spots? If I knew, they wouldn’t be blind spots.