I’ll miss the way you smile as though it’s just for me

I love Mad Men. And I love companies that use blogging as a tool to promote their content, interact with their fans and get good SEO cred. (Why? Because I work in marketing) But AMCTV’s Mad Men blog pitched me a wingding this week:

Can’t get Peggy’s rendition of “Bye Bye Birdie” out of your head? Why should you? But while you’re humming that tune, check out the following online extras:

Those of you who saw “Love Among the Ruins” in Season 3, Episode 2 should already have your jaws on the desk. If not, I may have to spoil a bit.

Peggy Olsen (Elizabeth Moss) is the only female copywriter in the 1960s Madison Avenue advertising firm Sterling Cooper. In this episode, she’s assigned to draft a commercial for Pepsi’s new diet drink, Patio, inspired by Ann-Margret singing the title of “Bye, Bye Birdie”:

In the brainstorm Peggy argues that, while Ann-Margret’s veiled sensuality certainly appeals to the males in the audience (and let’s be frank, there is something kind of sexy about the open pleading, the bit lips, the shaken head, etc, I don’t need to spell it out further, do I?), Patio is targeted at women. Women don’t need to be seduced by Ann-Margret. The other men in the room dismiss her criticism and her boss, Don Draper, shuts her down with restrained impatience.

Rebuffed, Peggy wonders if she’s missing out on something. Peggy’s character arc through the first two seasons veers between Career Professional and Sexual Creature, two identities she can’t wear simultaneously in the 1960s. So, in “Love Among the Ruins,” Peggy reconsiders her path for a moment. Is that really all men want, she wonders? Not someone intelligent with whom to share a life, but someone kittenish and accessible?

And there’s a heartbreaking scene, halfway through the episode, where Peggy stands in front of her bedroom mirror in her nightgown and does her best Ann-Margret impression. And it’s just not good.

peggy-olson-bye-bye-birdie

It’s an example of how great Mad Men is at capturing vulnerability: the unguarded moments when our professional mask slips. It’s raw and poignant and embarrassing and rewarding.

Can’t get Peggy’s rendition of “Bye Bye Birdie” out of your head? Why should you?

Can’t get Mr. Blonde’s rendition of “Stuck In the Middle with You” out of your head? Can’t get Buffalo Bill’s rendition of “Goodbye Horses” out of your head? Can’t get the Radiator Lady from Eraserhead‘s rendition of “In Heaven” out of your head? Why should you? They’re only meant to haunt you about the civilized veneers we plaster over our primal insecurities. Snap your fingers, tap your toes.

(N.B. Things don’t end bad for Peggy. She gets dolled up, goes to a bar, picks up a college student, goes back to his place for a one-night stand, then sneaks out at about five in the morning. Critical reaction to this was mixed, but I saw it as a tremendous step forward for Peggy. She tried her hand at the Don Draper seduce-and-destroy lifestyle, enjoyed it, decided it didn’t work for her, and went back to work none the worse for wear. She didn’t get a hysterical pregnancy or sit weeping on the floor of her shower. Sex is great; glad I had some; la dee da)

Anyhow, moral of the story: make sure the intern writing your blog has actually seen the episodes they blog about.

why weak male characters are bad for women

New Overthinking It post on why weak male characters are bad for women:

On the surface, [She’s Out of My League is] a forgettable sex comedy. Adorable schlub lands major-league hottie; usual series of pratfalls and embarrassing incidents; he rises to the occasion and proves himself worthy of her love. No bankable stars and plenty of references (the TSA, iPhones) that will hopefully seem dated in ten years. The tone’s a little more crass than usual, but no worse than anything we’d see in the Eighties. Or Nineties. Or Aughts.

Of course, I liked it much better the first time I saw it, when it was called (500) Days of Summer.

but we’ve got the biggest balls of them all

Talking with a very good friend of mine last week, we mentioned a mutual female acquaintance whom, I said, “had the ovaries to pull something like that off.”

“Huh?” my friend asked.

“Like saying, ‘she had the balls to pull it off.’ Only, y’know, ovaries.”

“Right, right; I got that.” I still got the quizzical look, though.

“I figured it’s diminutive to refer to a woman as ‘having balls’ to do something because she’s confident. ‘Oh, congratulations at having presence. You’ve been promoted to ‘Male.’ ”

“I’m with you,” my friend said. “But at the same time, I’m not comfortable with females getting special female-only titles that distinguish them from male roles. Like ‘actress,’ which is the same thing as an actor, but female. As if there’s some inherent difference in a woman’s performance than a man’s.”

“Fair enough,” I said.

(We settled on cojones, which means “balls” but is obscured by the language barrier and retains neutrality)

But the question lingers in my mind.

There’s a wealth of jargon in English to encourage someone to take bold action, and all of it points at a guy’s crotch. A guy with confidence has “balls”; astonishing confidence, “big brass ones.” Someone who needs to show confidence is told to “sack up” or “grow a pair”; someone who lacks confidence is a “pussy.” One of my favorite lines from The French Connection comes when an American mobster needs to convince his boss that French druglord Alain Charnier is a cold-hearted operator. “This guy’s got ’em like THAT!”, the mobster yells, making a cupping motion under his crotch. It’s a guttural, striking image, and it conveys the message in a heartbeat.

So how do you describe a woman with confidence? Let’s ignore for the moment the tendency of many people to refer to women exhibiting confidence, a refusal to be interrupted or a low tolerance for errors as “bitchy.” Not because that’s not a problem, mind, but because that’d be its own 1000-word post. For now, let’s settle on the problem of language.

We can’t erase ten thousand years of linguistic development, so we can’t get people to stop referring to confidence as “ballsy.” That’s not an option. So our remaining options appear to be:


  1. Appropriate that language for women as well, reproductive irony be damned. That chick’s got balls; you see that?
  2. Invent parallel language for women. Doubting yourself isn’t going to get the job done. Now egg up and get back out there.
  3. Create some gender-neutral term that’ll work well for both. Now this one’s got some real gametes, walking up and saying that.
  4. A fourth option that I haven’t figured out yet.

I ask not because I’m looking for the Orthodox Answer From Feminism (there isn’t one, and that’s a good thing). Rather, I want a good colloquial way to talk about the women I respect. Also, I like stirring up interesting discussions about language on Mondays.

wet bus stop, she’s waiting, his car is warm and dry

Dear Internet,

What do you mean, “if”?

Cordially,
Professor Coldheart

everybody’s going nowhere slowly, they’re all fighting for the chance to be last

Holly over at Pervocracy (NSFW text but image free) wrote an interesting post a week ago about the one safety class that every woman ought to take, but nobody offers yet:

I’ve seen a couple dozen assaults in my day, and about two of them were between complete strangers. (Both of those, incidentally, weren’t in “fringe areas” but in convenience stores. Perhaps we should teach our daughters never to go to 7-11, it’s just not worth it.) The rest were committed by partners, siblings, friends, cousins, my boyfriend’s weird friends he invites over, this john my pimp said was cool, and of course Sumdood. It’s sort of comforting in a way to think that threats come from “outside,” but it doesn’t reflect reality. You can creep through the parking lot with a can of mace and total situational awareness and then go home and get raped by your husband.

There’s a class I’d like to teach young women, actually. (Young people. I’ve seen a man streaming blood after his wife broke a heavy ceramic mug over his head.) Identifying and getting the fuck out of destructive intimate relationships. Not a brief sideline to Stranger Danger self-defense but a whole class on the real threat. Best for kids young enough to not be in serious relationships yet, but open to any age. It would save ten times as many lives as this “young ladies are fragile flowers that mustn’t go into the big bad world alone” bullshit.

Hell yes.

Picture a four hour seminar. The first two hour block would cover Signs of Abusive Behavior. Not just physically abusive stuff, but the psychological trauma as well. Does he act like a radically different person in private with you than he does in company? Does he make you feel dumb, weak or vulnerable? Does he threaten you? There should be lots of discussion on this, as a lot of people make excuses for this behavior (“but he takes care of me”; “but he says he loves me”; etc).

I’m not an expert on that part, so I’ll let someone else write that curriculum.

That’s the first two hours. Everyone gets a break to cool down. When they come back, all the chairs are pushed out of the way. The second two hour block is nothing but self defense.

You cannot teach a new student everything there is to know about self defense in two hours. You couldn’t teach it in twenty hours, and you’d have a well-meaning amateur after two hundred. But there are three reasons to include this part anyway:

  • Two hours of self defense, taught well, are better than zero hours.
  • It demonstrates to a willing audience that self defense is accessible – that it’s not the province of ninjas and commandos, but something anyone can learn.
  • If one technique sticks in someone’s mind and saves their life a month, a year or a decade down the line, it was worth it.
The first hour of this two hour block: learning how to strike. How to throw proper boxing strikes (throw from the shoulders, square the hips, turn off the rear foot). How to throw elbows and knees. How to use the base of the palm, the edge of the hand and the heel of the foot. Where to strike. Which targets will stun someone (sternum, throat, groin), which will break something (elbow joints, knee joints) and which will kill (back of the neck).

The second hour of this two hour block: responses to four common attacks. Why four? Because that’s pushing the limit of what a brand new student will retain. I’d feel better if we only did three, but we’ve got the full hour; why not use it? Maybe someone’s videotaping this.

Each response will have two variations: a submission response (control the attacker through pain) and a striking response. I include two different levels because of the potential variety of attackers. People talk about how “there are no rules in a fight.” While this is true, that doesn’t mean we completely ignore context. If your husband of ten years tries to sexually assault you because he got drunk and isn’t taking your “No” seriously, you don’t want to gouge his eyes out. But you want something that will get him off you immediately.

I pick these attacks based on some fairly common male-on-female assault scenarios (if anyone has some better suggestions, let me know):

  • Two-handed choke (attacker has both hands around the victim’s throat).
  • Lapel grab (attacker grabs the lapels of the victim’s shirt or jacket. This response can also be used for an attacker grabbing at the victim’s chest).
  • Pinning on the ground (attacker pins the victim’s wrists and kneels between her legs. Grapplers will recognize this as being “in the guard” and can guess at some responses).
  • Hammerlock (attacker grabs victim’s wrist and pulls it up her back)
We’ll spend fifty minutes working those. In the last ten minutes, everyone gets up in front of class and fights off one attacker, who uses any of those four at random. No model mugging suits, either. I’m not qualified to say if those full padded suits work or not.

Teach that two hour seminar at one major university in each of the fifty states and male-on-female assaults, murders and rapes would go down by a third in five years. The first two hours would teach prevention – helping women identify bad situations and get out of them. The second two hours would teach the cure.

As always, constructive feedback is appreciated.

I ain’t afraid of no ghosts

A reminder that this is Ghostbusters Week on Overthinking It: our look back at the 25th anniversary of the release of Murray, Ackroyd, Ramis and Hudson’s epic comedy. My post, Death of a Thousand Pecks, went up today. Only in the 80s could an EPA inspector be a movie villain – but what does this mean for the movie? Or for the 80s?

# # #

Also, this week’s Overthinking It podcast talked about the weird framing of abstinence in pop culture. I’d like to expand on some comments I made there.

(WARNING: the following contains what a male in his late twenties thinks about sex. Viewer discretion is advised)

I mentioned on the podcast that Hollywood tends to depict virginity in two different ways:

  • The Disney view, in which virginity is a treasure to be held onto as long as possible; and
  • The Apatow view, in which virginity is a burden to be discarded as soon as possible.

(Neither of those are fair labels, since Disney characters don’t even talk about sex, and Judd Apatow did not invent the teenage sex comedy. But they’re useful labels, since everyone knows what they mean)

My observation at the time: no one takes what I’d call the agnostic view of virginity – namely, that “virginity” as a concept does not signify anything useful.

Recall that the notion of virginity, as it applies to humans, is inherently patriarchal. A “virgin” is a female who has not had sexual intercourse. Her status as virgin matters only in that it enhances her value in a marriage contract. A woman who has not had sexual intercourse may be married proudly; a woman who has had sexual intercourse before marriage must be put away privily.

So, given that we live in an age which admits that women aren’t just child-bearers, but might be agents capable of thinking, why does a woman’s virginhood matter?

My fellow podcasters*, while agreeing that the loss of virginity didn’t transform a person in any biochemical way, insisted that virginity is still special because it’s the barrier of “the first time.” The first time doing anything holds a special significance – riding a bike, going off to school, getting a job, etc.

And while I agree that’s true, nobody considers their first sexual experience and their first day on a new job equivalent milestones. There are a lot of differences. And I don’t just mean the nudity, the intimacy, the male/female dynamic, etc – y’know, trivial stuff. I mean the expectation of success.

Bluntly, everybody knows you’re going to fall the first few times you ride a bike. Everyone will tell you that your first job out of college will probably suck. But pop culture insists our first sexual experience will be magical. Soft lights, elevator jazz, lots of awed eye contact and plenty of cuddling after.

Show of hands if that sounds like your first time. Anyone?

..

.

Okay, I’ll go: my first time was not like that at all.

I believe that the unrealistic weight hung on the importance of The First Time hurts the young. Your first time having sex will probably be a little awkward. Your first time doing anything is awkward. Don’t stress out about it. Alcohol helps, in small doses. Just remember to breathe, use all the protection available to you, and wash up after.

More important than your first time having sex, I’ve found, are the times you have sex with someone you really care about. Or the times you have really amazing sex. Or the times you have awkward, lonely sex (I said “important,” not “good”). Or the times you have comical, embarrassing sex. These are the moments you want to reflect on and learn from – not necessarily your very first time.

You shouldn’t hurry into losing your virginity for the wrong reasons. But you shouldn’t hoard it for the wrong reasons either. You should have sex for the first time for the same reason you have sex for the nth time: because it’s with someone you care about, or because it’s fun, or because you want to make a baby, or because it feels good. Whatever your reason, have a reason. And the sanctity of virginity should not be it.

* All males, which is why I’m re-opening the discussion here; I’d really like to hear some female viewpoints on this.

it’s not a habit, it’s cool; I feel alive

In part of a slow effort to improve my productivity, I cut myself off from as many political weblogs as possible over the last month or so. I refused to let myself get drawn into the minutiae that amateur pundits obsess over (OMG Palin’s expensive wardrobe! WTF Obama socialism!), because I knew it would only make me angry.

But I had a few minutes to kill on Monday morning so, in a moment of weakness, I revisited IOZ.

Oh, sweet mother of Motown, that felt good.

From Moving to Montana Soon:

If the election of Barack Obama makes America “socialist,” then this blog makes me Tom fucking Clancy. I mean, here you have a dude who basically says he’s going to tinker a little bit with the marginal tax rate and try to close some corporate loopholes (yeah, uh, bon chance, yo), but who otherwise promises to invade Syria and Afghanistan and Pakistan and Iran and the Moon and Kupier Belt, to expand the death penalty to include absentee fatherism, and to have the NSA eavesdrop on everyone in the universe. Ohmigod, America has been taken over by a dude who believes in American primacy and hegemony, who calls Israel our double-super-BFF-forever, who embraces a narrative of National Greatness that should give Canadian bagman David Frum the biggest only hard-on he’s ever had. Are we really in for four years of the chest-puffing closet cases of the putative right trying to convince us that a Wilsonian is some kind of crypto-Leninist?

From Phallibertarians:

Male libertarians who denigrate the pervading social constraints on women and people of minority racial groups and people with less common sexual predilections–i.e., most male libertarians–do so because their ideology is grumpy and reactionary; it is forged of the same stuff as crybaby conservativism; its concerns with genuine liberty are purely tactical, and entirely personal. These scattershot beliefs, which consist principally of disliking taxes, regretting surveillance, and smoking weed hardly constitute a political identity at all. Sometimes they involve opposition to imperialism abroad; sometimes not. They’re the reason libertarianism in general is routinely mocked as a kind of solipsism: it is!

[…]

Many, many self-identified libertarians are in fact bourgeois white men firmly ensconced in a patriarchal heteronormative social order that they fundamentally do not wish to change.

Holy hell, my hands are shaking. Someone keep me away from the devil in that needle because, after the two weeks leading up to this past election, this shit got me hooked again.